Tips for Grant Writing Success

Posted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Written by Research Innovation Office

Professionals talking in networking-style setup in a brightly lit atrium

Grant writing is a challenging but necessary part of being a university researcher. To help you through the process, we asked members of the Research Innovation Team to share their top tips for writing grants that win funds.

  1. Start now: It's never too early to begin laying the groundwork for a solid grant application. Map out the steps required to create a persuasive proposal (see below for ideas) and mark them on your calendar. Include time for discussions with partners and program officers, as well as time for writing, reviewing, and revision. 
  2. Begin with people: You will need more than data to write the proposal. Audience, real-world end users, and partners play key roles in a grant application. "Before you start your research proposal, get out of the office and talk to real people whom you think will use or benefit from your proposed solution," says Dr. David Hobson, Manager, Technology Transfer & Entrepreneurship.
  3. Develop a knowledge mobilization plan: A good plan that includes information about how your research findings will be communicated to end users is invaluable. Melissa MacKay, Knowledge Mobilization Manager recommends websites such as The Ontario Centre for Excellence in Child and Youth Mental Health as an excellent resource for tips on developing a knowledge mobilization plan. In addition, Research Impact Canada has developed a checklist for reviewers to assess the impact strategy. "Ideally knowledge users should be engaged early in the research cycle in order to best understand their needs, as well as to co-create the research plan and outputs," MacKay says. "This relationship building ensures the results of your research will be relevant, timely, and useful for the end users. " 
  4. Get to know the program guidelines: Not all grant applications ask the same questions or require the same information. Carefully read the application and compile a list of questions before you cut and paste materials prepared for other applications into any new grant application form. 
  5. Get to know the program officer: After you've reviewed the application and compiled your questions, schedule a call with the program officer identified in the application materials. This person understands the application requirements and process. Submitting a solid, clear application makes his/her job easier, so these contacts are genuinely motivated to help you. Don't hesitate to call on program officers when needed -- even if it's more than once. 
  6. Build on previous success: Talk to researchers who have previously applied to the program. "If colleagues have been successful in previous funding calls, ask if it is possible to see an example of a successful application," encourages Gregor Lawson, Manager, Industry Liaison.
  7. Empathize with the Adjudicators: Don't assume that reviewers will know your subject area as well as you do. Keep them in mind when writing the grant and be sure to communicate the value of your research in clear, easy to understand language that requires no technical expertise to be understood. If you're uncertain about your wording, speak with the program officer.
  8. Connect the dots when it comes to numbers: Numbers are crucial, but they need context. "Provide quantifiable figures around the benefits of your research. How will the expected outcome benefit stakeholders, industry partner(s), and the economy?" says Vanja Djukic, MSc, Industry Liaison Officer.
  9. Review the application - twice: Once you and your team have gone over the application and feel it is complete, get a fresh set of eyes to read it once more. Make use of on campus resources to review applications prior to submission; Research Services, Industrial Liaison Officers and College Research Managers are often able to help if given adequate time. Of course, if questions or omissions arise, revise the application one more time as needed before submitting. 

Follow these steps and you'll be well ahead of most applicants. 

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