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Reading & Writing

How to write a grant application

How to write a grant application

Applying for grants is a time-intensive exercise. You need to maximise your chance of success; unfunded grants take just as long to write but have no output to show for it. Here are tips on selling your research idea and avoiding ruffling the reviewers’ feathers or worse, ringing alarm bells.

A good grant application meets all of the following requirements:

Is structured and tells a story:

  • Explains the unmet clinical need.
  • Formulates a research question and hypothesis.
  • Proposes a series of experiments to test said hypothesis.
  • Describes pilot/prior work and existing literature to justify the proposed experiments and to indicate that the project has a high likelihood of success.
  • Anticipates the outcome, linking back to how this will address the unmet clinical need.
  • Provides a likely timescale to impact and future work.
  • Justifies the funds requested
  • Indicates the expertise of the team (infrastructure, access to samples/data, existing publications, funding).

Is detailed and specific. Make every word count.

Is clear. The grant review panel will include lay representatives and academics from fields outside your own. Do not overcomplicate the application with poorly-explained technical details and jargon – this will make your application harder to read/understand and detract from the potential clinical value of the project. Check the application with a fine-tooth comb for typos, grammatical errors and inaccurate references.

Has appropriate PPI input. Grant review panels usually include lay representatives who judge applications based on

  1. study design i.e. what is asked of study participants
  2. potential clinical impact and value

A poor grant application may be guilty of any one of the following (NB even one flaw may be enough to sink the application):

  • Unclear how the project will address an unmet clinical need or improve patient outcomes.
  • Research unlikely to be translated due to financial/logistical/ethical reasons.
  • No clear hypothesis/research question (a fishing expedition).
  • Research is not novel.
  • Inadequate review of the literature.
  • Poor quality references containing mainly reviews (rather than primary research papers).
  • Inappropriate choice of samples, data or methodology to answer the research question (chosen for convenience).
  • Pilot data not detailed or absent.
  • Methods and project plan lacking in detail or inappropriate to answer the research question. In the case of questionnaire-based research, failure to use validated questionnaires.
  • Inadequate consideration of statistics/power calculations/validation.
  • Inadequate consideration of ethical implications.
  • Inadequate PPI
  • Costs which aren’t reasonable.
  • In the case of studies which are nested within larger trials, uncertainty regarding when the data will be published and who will have ownership of the data.
  • Not aligned to the funding stream/funder’s aims.
  • Overly ambitious.
  • Style: too wordy (flow charts or timelines could reduce this) or too informal.
  • Inaccuracies – typos/grammatical errors.
  • Assumes the reader has too much specialist knowledge.