Numerous resources are available in print and online that are designed to assist both new and experienced researchers with the grant writing process. The following list summarizes some of the most common tips and advice. For further reading, please refer to the links below.
Top Tips for Preparing a Successful Grant Application
Get started well in advance.
- Start Early. It is a common mistake to underestimate how long it can take to craft a high-quality proposal. Start several months before the deadline. This will allow you to time to develop and organize ideas fully and to make the necessary contacts with collaborators, partners and end-users that may have a role in the proposal. It will also allow time to solicit and incorporate feedback to improve your application (see #14).
- Request examples of successful applications from colleagues who have applied to the same program to see what has worked in the past.
- Take advantage of any information workshops provided by the Office of Research that are related to your funding program of interests. These workshops often include specific tips on what works and what doesn’t, and advice from previously successful applicant(s) and/or from the sponsor.
- Participate in review panels. This can provide invaluable insight into how the review process works and what makes a winning proposal.
- Network and partner effectively. Across the university and within your subject area, networking will allow you to develop support and gather tips from peers on accessing funding. Collaborate with others who can bring necessary experience with funding agencies or to address gaps in your proposed project.
- Review carefully and often all proposal guidelines, instructions, and requirements and follow them.
- Access the University’s research administration resources and contact support staff to learn more about the programs, deadlines and supports available. Clarify institutional and sponsor requirements.
Plan. Present. Persuade.
- Tell a good story.
Communicate your compelling story in a way that makes the proposal enjoyable to read.
- Consider what the reviewer and the sponsor – your target audience – want to know.
- Answer the “So what?” question. Why this? Why you? Why now? Why is your solution the best?
- What is the relevance to the funder? Can you use the funder’s language to write persuasively?
- Focus on key points. Use direct uncomplicated language. Use summary statements.
- Make your proposal easy to review. Make your points clearly to the reviewer and make it easy for them to summarize. Address all the review criteria directly. Ensure the proposal is error free with no ‘invisible’ flaws.
- Appearances count!
Be sure to follow the sponsor’s requirements around presentation standards. Ensure your proposal is attractively formatted and organized in a logical way that can be easily navigated. For example:
- Use headings from the evaluation criteria or those provided by the funder whenever possible – don’t make reviewers hunt for information.
- Respect page and character limits – do not try to cram in more information by using a small font or reducing your margin size, etc.
- Highlight key points.
- Use summaries, graphics where possible.
- Prepare a clear and feasible budget.
- Ensure that expenses are eligible and that the budget justification maps easily to the numbers presented.
- Summary tables can be helpful to present more complicated sets of expenses, such as numerous Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP) or travel requirements.
- Provide the level of detail that speaks to the sponsor’s guidelines and demonstrates sound planning.
- Remember, the budget is the proposal and everything in it must serve, as economically as possible, the needs of the research.
- See Budget Tips for Researchers for more tips.
- Leave no doubt of success or impact. Present the research plan in a way that makes ‘simple sense’ to the reviewer. Demonstrate that your project is not only do-able but intelligent and creative. Results will be obtainable and interpretable. You have anticipated risks and proposed good back-up plans.
- Make your proposal easy to defend. The project aligns with the funding opportunity. The research addresses a ‘big’ question. This is the best plan. Reviewers are convinced and will champion the importance, your approach, interpretation and impact of the project.
Seek out mentorship and feedback.
- Get feedback on your draft proposal from colleagues both in your immediate discipline and outside of it. Review panels are often multi-disciplinary; you want to ensure your proposal speaks to everyone. Soliciting feedback from colleagues may be the single most important step you can take to strengthen your application. Some institutions have made this step a mandatory part of the application process!
- If writing does not come naturally to you, consider investing in the services of a grant writer to assist with planning, structure, style and flow.
Grant Writing Resources
General Advice on Grant Writing
Guidebook For New Principal Investigators: Advice on Applying for a Grant, Writing Papers, Setting up a Research Team and Managing Your Time by Roderick McInnes, Brenda Andrews and Richard Rachubinski (CIHR)
The Art of Grantsmanship by Jack Kraicer (Human Frontier Science Program)
A Guide for Proposal Writing (National Science Foundation)
Ten Ways to Write a Better Grant (The Scientist)
Ten Simple Rules for Getting Funded (PLoS Computational Biology)
Advice on Preparing Tri-Council Grants
Tips on Applying for an NSERC Discovery (a series of 6 individual short videos) - NSERC
How to Get (and Keep) an NSERC Research Grant by Ian Witten and Janice Glasgow (CiteSeer)
Books on Grant Writing (available through University of Guelph Library)
Proposals that work: a guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals. 6th ed. Lawrence Lock, Waneen Spirduso and Stephen Silverman. 2014. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Writing grant proposals that win. 4th ed. Deborah Ward. 2012. Jones & Bartlett Learning. Burlington, MA.
Proposal planning & writing. 5th ed. Jeremy Miner and Lynn Miner. 2013. ebrary, Inc. Santa Barbara, CA.
Additional references used in preparation of this material:
McArthur, Dawn. Advanced Grants-crafting. PowerPoint Presentation. CARA Webinar. March 31, 2016.