Since others were asking about the ACLS, and there seems not very much information on it, just thought I would share my two-bits worth. Also unlike the fieldwork grants (WG, SSRC, NSF etc) which lots of folks apply for and get, I didn't have access to many proposals as a model for my own. I looked at one successful grant and used it as the template for mine. I got the ACLS this year. Of course since this is *1* example, based on the extensive research on *1* example this is in no way a representative sample, and there must be many many ways to craft one. I just didn't have access to them. This is what I did.
1) Section 1: Opening paragraph - 150 words which encapsulated the broad intervention of the diss.
2) Section 2: Body of Proposal: The rest of the proposal I organized around individual chapters, telling the story of the diss through what each chapter is doing. Literally: Chapter 1 does this with this material, one paragraph. Chapter 2 does this with this material, one paragraph. Chapter descriptions focussed on the materials and empirical data. Each paragraph ended with a linking sentence to the next chapter, marking the theoretical through-lines of the diss.
3) Since its only 5 pages there is no space for a literature review, or setting the dissertation in context of previous scholarship. So I dispensed with this completely. The entire proposal has maybe 6 citations, thats all. I also heard from someone who also got it a few years ago, that the ACLS does not care about literature review etc since we are presumably making original interventions. I also did not have any methodology section. The methodology was one line, "archival research and ethnography in X and Y fieldsite, and A and B archives." Obviously this is discipline specific so historians will want to say something about their sources and archives etc.
3) Last section: Project significance and Progress to date: I ended with one paragraph that stated the specific disciplinary, and general scholarly, debates the diss intervenes in, and the contribution it hopes to make. And then I ended with 5 lines on progress to date (how many chapters already written, how many in progress, which conferences I will be attending.)
Some Tips (again from others):
1) The ACLS funds only the last year of dissertation writing. So DO NOT SAY YOUR RESEARCH IS NOT COMPLETE. This is really important. You can say (I did) that you will make one final SHORT fieldvisit to accomplish specific tasks. But on the whole say your research is complete and you are now going to only write.
2) The Timeline is really really important. If you are short on time, and you are planning 9 chapters in your dissertation, by all means stick to your plan and write them, but for the proposal describe a 5 chapter diss. The point being that the ACLS has to think your timeline for completion is reasonable and doable within the time you set out. So if you say you will write 1 chapter a month (and this may be your writing pace, I know folks who write this fast), to a normal person this sounds unreasonable.
Hope this helps. Good luck to everyone