Heilmeier Criteria AbbreviatedConcept papers are 1-2 page documents that provide a concise project overview. Concept papers can be used in several ways:

  • To engage program officers who can help a PI assess
    goodness of fit between a research project and a specific sponsor or funding opportunity
  • To initiate dialogue with potential collaborators and/or mentors
  • To secure support from institutional leaders

When writing a concept paper, consider the “Heilmeier Criteria.” What are the “Heilmeier Criteria?” In the 1970s, George Heilmeier was Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. Heilmeier developed a set of questions every proposal for a new research program had to answer. Commonly referred to as the “Heilmeier Criteria,” these questions should be answered for any research project.

Concept Paper Outline

PurposeIf applicable, describe the funding mechanism you believe is a strong match for the project.
Project Description

Describe the "who, what, and when" - i.e. what tasks will be undertaken, who will lead those tasks, and when the work will be accomplished. The project description can be broken down into 3 sections:

Problem & Significance: Explain why you to think, based on a review of the literature, that the topic needs study and why it is important to the field.

Approach/Methodology: Specify what hypotheses you will test and what model will guide your hypotheses. Explain what is new in your approach, why it is important to be done, and how it is unique. Include mention of any resources, collaborators, target populations, preliminary data, etc. that area available to the project.

Impacts & Outcomes: Describe the project’s expected outcomes, which may include impacts on the scientific field, societal benefits, health impacts, economic impacts, etc.
Project TeamIdentify key collaborators and their sponsoring institution. Identify stakeholders for which significant cooperation will be needed to implement the proposed project. If applicable, indicate which stakeholders are willing to provide a written commitment of support for the project.
Budget/TimelineIf appropriate for the chosen audience, indicate what you anticipate the project will cost and how long it will take to complete.
Contact Info

Provide contact information for the lead investigator.


Helpful Tips

Limit the concept paper to 1 or 2 pages.
Concept papers should be concise and clear.
Sell your idea by utilizing definitive statements.
Do not use conditional statements (e.g., may, if, or, but), which can indicate uncertainty. A concept paper should be positive and definite. Focus on objectives that will be accomplished within a given time frame.
Avoid unnecessary technical jargon.
Write in terms that a general audience will understand unless you know for certain that the audience is intimately familiar with your scientific field.
Be clear about you want to accomplish.
Clearly state what you plan to do, why the approach is unique, and who benefits. If targeting a specific funding sponsor, connect the project description to the sponsor's mission and funding priorities.
Refer to advances in the field relative to your project.
Show that you have done your homework. The proposed project should connect your research questions to existing literature and demonstrate how your research will add to the body of knowledge.