Time to write a grant application? Give yourself Time!

To pull a strong application together there are three key things to do (well there are lots of other things as well and blog posts will come in due course regarding them but these three I believe are key!). They are the three things that I keep coming back to when approached about grant writing tips and advice.

1) Give yourself time – an application written quickly, in only a few sittings rarely reads well and is usually easy to spot. One significant drawback of a quick application is there is little time to edit it. Good editing will help to make sure the application flows and therefore has an internal consistency. Further to this it is likely the research will have poorly thought through research questions and budgets. I have written about budgets previously and this can be accessed here. In essence I would suggest that whatever time you think it will take to write a strong application you will need double that time!

2) Answer the questions asked – sounds simple doesn’t it? It should be simple but it can easily forgotten, especially when you are close to your research. This is totally understandable but can lead to questions not being answered correctly or fully. My personal favourite is when a funder asks for a description of the aims and objectives. Often answers will start with a paragraph or two of context before listing the aims. This isn’t necessary, there is normally space for context and background information elsewhere in the proposal so it is best to put that text there. Just list the aims and objectives if that is what is asked for. Both reviewers and funding bureaucrats will like you if you do this (I know, I used to be one!). Keep it simple and if you have doubts about whether you are answering the questions then the third key thing to do will help address this.

3) Make sure you ask colleagues and research support staff to read your application – This is incredibly valuable. This process can be uncomfortable, particularly when the research idea is so important to you but by sharing your application with people who you trust will give you honest feedback your application can only be strengthened. This could include sharing you proposal with academic colleagues in your institution or a wider network. It may also involve sharing it with research support colleagues. By sharing it with both groups you will get insights from both technical and generalist readers which is important given that you will have both technical and more general reviewers looking at your proposal after it is submitted. Take any feedback offered and think through what it means. Adapt your proposal accordingly and ask people to read it again. Research support staff exist to read applications! Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and to debate points, it can really help clarify your thinking.

If you can successfully achieve all three of the above then you will submit a credible application. Even if it is not funded (hopefully it will be) you can use the information again for future applications and I can guarantee the time spent isn’t wasted. Are there any other key tips you should consider? There are lots of resources out there and some links to these are listed on the homepage. Happy grant writing!