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Seven tips to give your grant proposal that extra edge

3 min read
Sep 17, 2020
Grant Writing image with speech bubble on top of open laptop, surrounded by office supplies and a cup of coffee featured image

Grant writing is an important bread-and-butter skill that all principal investigators must develop, as this will ensure your lab gets funded to continue conducting research. Reagents, lab member salaries, and equipment won’t pay for themselves, after all.

As you may already know, the grant application can be quite complex. The written proposal must include many aspects of your research proposal, including the specific aims, research strategy, a detailed budget, and in some cases, a biosketch. There are also specific technical guidelines to follow, as well as additional forms and documents to fill out. A successful proposal must take all of these into account, all within a certain deadline. To help in this endeavor, here are a couple of tips — pulled from The scientist’s guide to writing successful grant applications — that can give your application that extra edge.


Follow a timeline. Creating a detailed plan with action items and deadlines can help with setting a reasonable writing pace. As you draw up your timeline take a step back and ask yourself if the plan you put together is realistic given all the other commitments you might have.


Include preliminary data if necessary. First of all, check the guidelines regarding the inclusion of preliminary data. Because figures can take up a lot of space, think about only including figures that truly support your proposal. It would also be better to include only promising data and to leave inconclusive data out. Make sure to describe the significance of this data as clearly as possible.


Strike a balance with referenced research. Mention enough relevant research in your proposal to be credible, but avoid including too many. This may draw attention to problems or make it seem as if you don’t know which references are critical. If you have an idea of who might review your grant, consider acknowledging their contributions, even if there are discrepancies with your theory and theirs.


Budget responsibly. Your proposal can be judged on how reasonable and appropriate the budget is in alignment with the agency guidelines. While you want to avoid proposing an unreasonably high amount, don’t underestimate time or money limitations. Try to be explicit about what you and colleagues will spend on each part of the project. How well your funding request matches the scope of the project may be used in your evaluation.


Clean up the writing. Pay close attention to the style and technical details. Make sure the writing is clear, concise, and flows in a logical manner that is easy to follow. Avoid jargons and be aware of terminology that may only be familiar to a very small circle of researchers.


Get feedback. Following up with the last tip, having colleagues and mentors read over your proposal is a must. But, you should also get feedback from a committee that includes experts and those outside your field to ensure the writing is clear and convincing. They may help you find weak points in your proposal.


Check and double check. Allocate enough time to make sure nothing is missing before you submit. Prior to review, applications are scanned for missing critical information, such as signatures. Technical issues such as font size, spacing, margins, and length that don’t adhere to guidelines will also hurt your application.


In addition to these few tips, more information is available about crafting a competitive grant proposal. Whether this will be your first grant application or your tenth, check out The scientist’s guide to writing successful grant applications to learn pointers applicable to all types of grants, from research grants to career development awards and more. To help you stay on track and keep focused, the guide also includes a handy timeline and checklist — conveniently ready to print!