10 top tips for grant applications

Professor Philippa Saunders FMedSci, chair of many grants panels, shares how to make your grant application stand out.

“I have reviewed hundreds of grant applications, but even with the most exciting projects, we see the same common mistakes and problems. Here are my 10 top tips to help you strengthen your proposal and persuade a grant panel to fund your research. Good luck!”

1. Provide a clear hypothesis and key questions

Make it clear at the start what you are planning to do, and what key questions you hope to answer. It’s unlikely that all panel members will be experts in your field, so use clear, simple language, explaining all abbreviations and acronyms – particularly in your lay summary. It’s not patronising – it’s helpful.

2. Give detail

Include full details of what you are proposing and why. For instance, which samples, patients or model systems will you use? Why were other choices less appropriate? Back your decisions with evidence to justify your choice of methods fully.

3. Location, location, location

Reflect on choice of host organisation and its suitability to host your award. For instance, how does your work fit into the institution's research strategy? Will your peers co-operate with you to support the work?  Are there appropriate facilities?

4. Make your role clear

Make it absolutely clear exactly what you will be doing on the project. Distinguish this from what other people involved will be doing. This is just as important for shared applications as for personal fellowships. (See also our tips for team science projects.)

5. Collaboration makes you stronger

Include details of collaborations that will strengthen your proposal, and how you will benefit from training and learn from others. You can’t be an expert in everything! Identify your limitations and collaborate to fill the gaps.

6. Be realistic

Make your proposal innovative and exciting – but ensure it can be achieved in the timeframe proposed and with the resources available.

7. Consider a Plan B

Research rarely goes according to plan. Show you have thought about the risks and what you would do if things go wrong. Think about including a contingency plan for what you might do instead, especially for high risk projects. Don’t fall in love with your hypothesis!

8. Get a second opinion

Seek feedback in advance of submitting. Share your proposal with a colleague for comment – preferably someone not working in the immediate field.

9. Give yourself time

Writing a grant application can be tricky – allow time to deal with unforeseen issues. Always contact the grants team behind the application for help if you get stuck or have questions.

10. Don’t give up

Grant rejections are part of academic life. Everyone has rejections and failures. It’s not a reflection on your value as a researcher or a person. Don’t give up.

Want to learn more about the art of grantsmanship? Read top tips on lay summaries, see example applications and more on our Learning Hub.

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