What are the steps in writing grant applications?

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No matter how good your research idea, if you can't successfully communicate that idea to the reviewers then you won't successfully obtain grant funding. Here is where we share what each of us has learned ...


Before writing the application...

  1. Instructions - completely read the instructions laid out by the granting organization because the reviewers know every word of the instructions.
  2. Identify what information you need to include. Beyond the detailes of the research idea, many grants require information from you about your background, your ability and resources to conduct the research, your C.V., and so forth. In the case of fellowships, you also need to detail how you will learn and develop as a researcher (e.g., intellectual skills, writing, presentations, seminars, conferences, interactions with other scientists, lab meetings, etc) and what mentor(s) will be guiding you through this process.

While writing the application...

  1. Structure - Have a clear and logical structure to your application so that the reader will have a path to follow.
  2. Have instructive headings to guide the reader.
  3. If you are not enthusiastic, then why should the reviewer be enthusiastic. If the grant is not engaging, then why should the reviewer care about the proposal. At all times the granting process is about sales and marketing.
  4. Refer to literature thoroughly – so that you can convince the reviewer you know the field.
  5. State your rationale clearly - its surprising how many people assume the reader will understand the rationale for the grant proposal, so dont be one of those people.
  6. Don't assume that the reviewers are familiar with your field, so explain everything in your proposal.
  7. Research plan - When you lay out your proposed studies, explain what you will do and how you will do it -- then support each statement if possible with preliminary results or references to published work which has bear on the methodology you intend to implement. Then explain why you are doing it -- describe the expected outcomes and discuss possible alternative hypotheses. And finally, be upfront about any potential pitfalls that may arise -- describe each potential problem, and then discuss the different approachs you will take to overcome them.
  8. Preliminary results discussed in your proposal convey three things. First, it demonstrates the technical feasiblity of conducting the research i.e., can the research actually be done as proposed in the application. Second, it demonstrates the theoretical feasiblity of your research idea i.e., your specific idea is valid. Third, it demonstrates you are qualified to conduct this type of research i.e., you have experience successfully testing and proving your research idea.
  9. Directly address your weaknesses. I can't emphasize this enough. This shows the reviewer that you have thought everything through and you are aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal. Then, when you discuss the overall importance of the research you have more crediblity.
  10. Figures - Have well-placed figures or diagrams to break up the text, make it easier to read and understand each point, and provide graphical reinforcement of ideas.

After writing the application... but before submission

  1. Read it out loud to yourself and others
  2. Finish it, let it sit, then come back to it with a fresh eye
  3. Obtain pre-review by your peers before submission. Have these "reviewers" be researchers with general knowledge but not an expert in the subject matter of the grant because that is exactly who is reviewing the grant after it is submitted.

Other tips...

  1. If the grant proposal includes submitting your C.V., keep in mind that reviewers who are taking into account your publication record in evaluting your entire proposal view 1 publication a year as the minimum or average track record for a norman reseacher.

Links to useful information

  1. ResearchResearch provides a listing of "guidance" pages written by experts on how to find grants, how to write applications, Dos & Dont's, and etc.
  2. FastWeb provides general tips for applying for scholarships and writing essays that is mainly geared toward college-bound students but that is also relevant to grad and post-grad students.
  3. FundSource has a good grant writing tips.
  4. AAAS GrantsNet Grant Writing page has a long list of articles about writing successful grant applications.
  5. K-Awards - provides a summary that describes K-Awards, the purpose behind them, and tips on how to apply.

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