6 steps to drafting a grant application

Applying for grants is a time-consuming process. Deadlines can loom suddenly, leading to stress and long days. Success rates can be low, meaning that effort is often not rewarded.

At the outset, you need to form a realistic timeline to work on the grant application. In addition to identifying your funding source, researching the specific requirements of the grant application and formulating your project budget, you will need to start planning your written proposal. Careful planning and early feedback from your colleagues will maximise your chances of a successful outcome. Following these 6 steps will help you develop the core content of your application.

1. Identify your audience
Will the grant be reviewed by specialists in your field or by a panel of non-specialists or lay people? In reality, you may have two types of audience:

– Non-specialist or non-scientific  reviewers who will require background information to judge whether your project is worthwhile.
– Specialist reviewers within your discipline that will be more familiar with your research.

In most cases it is reasonable to assume that your reviewers may not be familiar with the terminology, the current research problems or instantly understand why your project is so important. It is imperative to make sure your proposal is clear and understandable.

2. Summarise the key research problems overarching your project
Before you can think about convincing people how good your project is, you need to build a picture about the current problems facing your research community.

Successful grant applications clearly define the area of need and how it is relevant to your potential funding source. This will help you build your case as to why your project is so important. Describe how these problems might affect society and the environment. For example, if you are researching a disease, highlight the burden associated with that disease. Outline how many people it affects, the costs to society and what needs to be done to solve this problem.

3. Summarise the key problem your project will solve
This is where you focus on what problem(s) this project will try to solve. Clearly articulate the problem that will be tackled by your project. It is important that you don’t promise to solve too many problems. Describe how this problem is connected to the broader scope of the problems outlined in Step 2.

Try not to be vague or describe a problem that is too big to solve with your study. It must be achievable given the scope of your project. Once you have outlined your research problem, then you can clearly state what you aim to achieve (step 4).

4. Articulate the hypotheses, aims and outcomes
Your overall aim will be to solve the problem outlined in step 3. Identify what you specifically aim to achieve, your hypotheses and what outcomes you can expect from your completed project. The outcome of the project funded by the grant might be to provide new information that can be used to identify specific therapies .

Once the overall aim is stated, the project should be broken down into sub-aims, each with a defined outcome. This helps you to define timelines, keeps the grant focussed and productive and improves the likelihood that the grant will be successful.

5. Summarise how you will do the work (methods)
A major factor in grant success is being able to convince the reviewers that the project is feasible and that the work is likely to be completed. Clearly outline what methods you will use and what experience you have in this area. If you need to develop new methods, clearly explain what is required and provide evidence of your ability to develop other methods in the past. Outline the scope of the project. How long it will take to complete each component? Is the size of your project feasible within the set time frame? Do you have access to suitable equipment and operational facilities?  Promote yourself. Provide evidence (such as previous publications or unpublished data) to demonstrate that you are capable of successfully completing the project.

6. Seek feedback from colleagues
Give your draft proposal to your colleagues for feedback. They may provide valuable feedback on what is feasible, which aspects are the most interesting and what might be missing.

This early feedback will help you focus on what you want to achieve, why it is important and how likely the project is to succeed. It can be helpful to talk to people who have already received funding from a particular source; what feedback did they receive and what aspects did they think helped them to secure funding? If appropriate, it might also be helpful to seek feedback from colleagues who have recently been unsuccessful in winning a grant from the same funding body.

What to do next?
– Rework the application so that it is clear, compelling, concise and flows well.
– Finalise your budget and ensure all aspects of your project are justified.
– Seek at least two more rounds of feedback from your peers as you proceed through writing and the submission process. Grants that peer-reviewed grants prior to submission are more likely to be successful.
– Pay close attention to the small details in the submission process. You don’t want to have your grant rejected on a technicality or an unchecked box on a submission form.

© Liza O’Donnell & Marina Hurley 2017

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