Writing Grant Proposals

Generally, research requires funding; this is a fundamental fact of academia. But how do we acquire this funding? By asking, begging, and convincing the funding committee that your research is worth putting their money toward. On this page, we'll give you some tips on writing great grant proposals and fellowship applications, some exercises to help you develop your skills, and some additional resources for further reading.

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The ideal grant-writing process.
(Source: Piled Higher and Deeper #1431 by Jorge Cham)

Overview

  1. Review the request for applications (or the fellowship essay prompt). The prompt will provide you with all of the important information required for a successful application to this funding source. It will include overview information, key dates, a description of the funding provided, eligibility information, selection criteria, and all sorts of very important information to consider. Carefully read over this document until you understand what you are applying for. Pay attention to keywords and think of ways to connect your proposal to the goals of the call.
  2. Develop a plan. Most applications will provide you with limited space to describe your plan of work, and this can create a huge challenge when you have so many ideas and thoughts on your project. Every single sentence, every single figure, every single outline must be clear, concise, and important to your overall mission. You should cover the motivation behind your work, the strategy you intend to follow to address the problem, specific aims that you want to accomplish, and a breakdown of how you will use the budget if you are accepted. (See Writing Papers for more help addressing these topics.)
  3. Request feedback from peers. Once you have a rough draft of your proposal — ask for feedback! This is always a valuable step when you write anything, but grant proposals will particularly benefit from feedback provided by researchers outside of your field, since grant proposals will often have more of a "we will change the world!" tone not present in technical papers.
  4. Learn from the reviewers. A fact of life is that sometimes, you will be rejected. Take this as an opportunity to develop a better plan for next time. Reviewers will have often very useful feedback on your proposal, whether it being information on an ill fit, room for improvement, or simply outsider opinions on your work. This can be extremely valuable information to take into account when you re-submit your application.

Exercises

Synthesized Grant Template

Begin by collecting a few grant proposals (these can be actual grant proposals, fellowship applications, etc.). Compare and contrast these different project proposals. What similarities do you see in the structure of these proposals? Do you notice that certain patterns emerge?

Synthesize the common pieces of the proposals to create a template for what makes a good grant proposal. Your template should describe the different sections of a grant and the purpose of each section in detail. Explain how each of your example grants satisfies (or does not satisfy) each section of your template.

External Resources

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