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How to... write a grant application

Options:     Print Version - How to... write a grant application, part 1 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Constructing a framework
  2. The content of the proposal
  3. An appropriate writing style

Constructing a framework

By the time you come to write your proposal, you should have already created a framework for success, notably by having your idea firmed up and also having done your background research on your funder. We'll explore some of those issues here.

Understand the criteria for success

Because of the individual nature of research funding each body will have its own criteria for awarding funds, however it is possible to generalize the following points:

What will your research add to the overall body of knowledge?

  • What are the research questions that will be addressed, or the problems explored, in the course of this research?
  • What are the objectives of the research in terms of answering these questions?
  • What is the context of the research – why is it important that these questions be answered?
  • Will the research confirm what we know already, or will it deepen and extend our understanding?
  • Will it invalidate existing evidence or interpretation, or substitute a new paradigm?
  • Will it provide a practical application of the knowledge?
  • What other research has been or is being done in this area?

What is the research methodology?

  • What methods will be used for the research?
  • Why have they been chosen?
  • How are you going to set about answering the research questions?
  • Are the aims of the research clear, and can they be realized?

How is the project being managed? Will it deliver?

  • Does the research team have the requisite knowledge and expertise?
  • Are the necessary facilities available?
  • Have ethical and confidentiality issues been addressed?
  • Is the budget realistic?
  • Are the reporting arrangements satisfactory?

Does the project represent good value for money?

  • Will the knowledge gained justify the money spent?
  • Will it be sufficient for a sufficiently rigorous research design?

Do your background research

This is very much linked up with selecting the funder, and if you can answer the questions posed on that page, you will have done quite a bit of background research. You need to check carefully that your own research objectives tie in with those of the funder, and that you meet sufficient of their criteria to make an application worth while. 

Read the application carefully!

Read the application form, and any supporting documentation that tells you what to include, very carefully. Create a checklist of their requests, and make sure that you respond to all of them.

Your research idea

Alongside an awareness of the funding background, and, of course, the writing of the proposal itself, the actual idea is the key to the proposal's success. Indeed, the clear formation of the former is a prerequisite of the latter! Your idea should be innovative and imaginative and should make a real contribution to knowledge, much in the same way as should a journal article.

Remember, it is very difficult to write a good proposal on a bad idea!

Talk to people

People in funding bodies are all too willing to talk to potential fundees about what they are looking for. You can usually find a contact name against a particular programme or department on the funder's website.

Have your own peer review process

This is especially, but not uniquely, true if you are new to the grant application process. Having it read by colleagues in your department and especially by colleagues in the Research Office . Research managers and research administrators often have a great deal of experience in writing grant applications and obtaining money. Indeed, if you involve them from the start they will probably direct you toward suitable funds.