Writing and submitting a grant proposal is not a task enjoyed by most people. However, if you’re a researcher, it’s one that you will probably need to undertake many times. Grant proposals are critical for showcasing your work and convincing funders to back your research project. While obtaining grants brings prestige to the researcher and the institution, in some fields such as medicine, academic success depends on the number of grants and amount of funding received1. So, how can you write a persuasive grant proposal that will impress funders and enable you to grow your research and your career?
The importance of planning in research grant writing
As with most major projects, the key to writing a successful grant proposal is planning. This includes an effective plan for not only writing the grant but also a strong plan for the research itself. Planning is extremely important for writing a successful research grant proposal because your final submission needs to be a complete and consistent story of your proposed work. Imagine trying to draft a novel linearly from start to finish without knowing the ending beforehand. Writing a successful research grant application requires that you attend to every detail, which means you need a plan.
Remember, you are telling a story through your written grant application. Therefore, every part of the proposal must work together, with nothing extra to distract the reader. This requires detailed planning.
The core of the grant proposal is the research plan. A poorly planned study will not impress the funders. In addition to clearly showing the reader what your proposed study will look like, you will also want to emphasize the positive impact the study results will have on the field and on society at large. Planning time will also need to be spent in identifying a suitable funding source and ensuring that their mission aligns with your research. The story you tell when writing your grant proposal needs to be a story that interests them.
Steps to writing a successful grant proposal
- Identify an idea: It all starts with an idea. What are you trying to find out with your study? A good place to start is by identifying your research question2,3. Can you explicitly state the impact of the results and who might benefit? What makes your study different or novel? How will you conduct your research? In addition, make sure you identify your needs. What are you asking the funders for? Money for equipment, supplies, staffing? Will your research continue long term or will it consist of a single experiment? All of this will be important when you start searching for a suitable funder.
- Find a matching funding source: Once you have your research plan, it’s time to look for suitable funders. Spend the time to identify all available grants that may be a fit for your study. Look beyond the obvious and the popular5. There may be more potential funders out there than you think.
- Research the funder and topic: Once you have identified a suitable funder, spend a lot of time on their website. Read about their mission and history, and find out what they have been funding recently. Examine the Call for Proposals very carefully. Consider calling the program officer for the grant of interest4. They will answer any questions you have and may provide feedback on your topic or review your proposal draft.
- Write the technical section: This will be the most difficult step for many researchers. While you may have a handle on the nuts and bolts of the study, communicating it clearly and concisely to those reviewing your proposal is more difficult. Like with any writing, don’t make it difficult for the readers to understand. Remember, you are trying to sell this idea to them. Be confident and definitive when discussing the need for this study. It’s always a good idea to read and study successful grant proposals from the organization to get an idea of what they want to see.
- Review the Call for Proposals again: Go through the instructions very carefully. Make sure all the formatting is correct and all the required details are included in each section. You don’t want to give the reviewers any easy excuses for rejecting your submission.
- Submit your proposal: Make sure you follow the submission instructions exactly. Submit your proposal early so you can avoid the stress of having technical difficulties the day the proposal is due.
- Learn from rejections and repeat: Keep in mind that most grant proposals are not funded, and even the most successful researchers get rejected. However, you can learn a lot from unsuccessful proposals. Examine the feedback provided by the readers and use it the next time you write a research grant proposal.
- Zlowodzki M., Jönsson A., Kregor P.J., Bhandari M. How to write a grant proposal. Indian J Orthop. 2007, 41, 23-6. doi: 10.4103/0019-5413.30521.
- The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Grant proposals (or give me the money!). https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/grant-proposals-or-give-me-the-money/ [Accessed August 10, 2022].
- Elsevier Author Services. Writing a successful grant application – step by step. https://scientific-publishing.webshop.elsevier.com/research-process/writing-successful-grant-application-step-by-step/ [Accessed August 10, 2022].
- Santoro, H. The daunting but vital world of grant writing. Monitor on Psychology, 2021, 52. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/11/career-grant-writing. [Accessed August 10, 2022].