After finding potential sources of funding for your life science research, it’s time to get started on writing your grant proposal. If this is your first attempt or you are a novice grant writer, follow these tips to prepare a successful application and increase your chances of getting your research project funded.

10 tips for successful grant writing

Writing grant proposals is understandably one of the most stressful, challenging and important tasks for PIs and postdocs today. With decreased funding, earning a grant has become extremely competitive. Not only is there the pressure to produce a well-written, scientifically sound proposal, you have the added anxiety of knowing that your project, and perhaps even your career, cannot go on without funding.

The best way to cope with the stress over writing your first few grant proposals is to focus it into preparing a successful grant application. Our 10 steps will help you optimize your opportunity to receive a grant. Start with these steps after you have identified potential sources of funding.

1. Define the parameters of your study.

Before you begin to apply for funding, and as obvious as this sounds, you need to know what you will be studying and how you will do it. This will help you to determine what your needs are as far as money, personnel and supplies go. Once you know what you will study and how you will study it, you will be able to determine which grants you are eligible for. Each grant you apply for will take a significant amount of time to prepare so you only want to submit a proposal for grants you have a chance of getting. You want to submit proposals to all funding opportunities which you are eligible for and you want to do it early, so take this first step now.

2. Draft a generic proposal and budget.

Once you have defined the parameters of your study, you can begin to develop a generic proposal. A generic proposal is one that includes all the basic elements of your study, but has not yet been edited for a specific submission. You need to include the problem that you will address and what the need is for you to address this topic. Explain to the reviewers why the research you are doing is relevant and important. You will also include what your plan is to achieve your results. What materials and methods will you use? What type of analysis will you do? All of these aspects of your study design should be explained in a logical and concise manner. Finally, include what your intended results are and what implications they will have in your field of study.

3. Base your proposal on evidence and preliminary data.

When you ask an agency for money, they will want to know that you have done your homework and that your proposal makes sense. Not all of the reviewers will be experts in your particular field. Provide them with facts and data that support the questions you desire to answer through your proposed project. If your lab ran preliminary data to test your hypothesis or observed that your study design was sound, include that in your proposal because it will help the reviewers understand the work you are doing.

4. Make a calendar of deadlines.

Once you determine which grants you will be applying for based on your eligibility, make a calendar of deadlines. Complete and submit each grant proposal in the order that they are due. You want to get them submitted as early as possible because missing a deadline would be an unfortunate reason to miss out on funding you may have gotten if your application was submitted on time. It is a good idea to schedule your own deadlines prior to the deadlines set by the funding agencies—aim for these dates and you will be ahead of schedule in case another funding opportunity arises that you want to apply for.

5. Follow the guidelines and directions for each proposal.

With each available grant, there will be a set of guidelines provided by the agency. It is important to follow the directions they provide. Instead of submitting the same grant application to each agency, update the formatting, length, etc. to meet the standards requested. While this may seem monotonous or unnecessary, ignoring the instructions provided is an easy way to get your proposal thrown out of the running before it is even reviewed. Optimize your chances of getting funded by taking this extra step.

6. Align your interests with the interests of the funding agency.

Another way you should update your generic proposal for each grant you apply for is by changing the goals and objectives of your study to align with those of the funding body. For example, if you’re applying for an NIH grant, you will want to emphasize the implications your research will have clinically and in the treatment of disease. On the other hand, if you’re applying for a grant from the NSF, it would be in your best interest to discuss how your project will aid to the understanding and knowledge of basic science principles. Take time to look over the mission of each of the agencies to which you are submitting a grant proposal so that you can focus on what they care about. They are more likely to fund your project if it has similar goals as their organization.

7. Anticipate questions the reviewers will have.

After you have finished writing your grant proposal, it’s time to proofread and make edits. Make sure it is free of any errors before you submit. As you go through and read your proposal, try to predict what questions the reviewers may have. Are there places were your phrasing was confusing or nonspecific? If you anticipate the questions and incorporate the answers into your application, you will be a step ahead. You won’t be there during the review to answer their questions so try to be as thorough as possible while also being concise.

8. Have your proposal reviewed by a colleague.

After you feel that your grant proposal is ready for submission and all edits have been made, have it read by a colleague. This should be someone who is not involved with the project and who does not know very much about it prior to reading the proposal. This will allow you to get feedback from someone who is reading the application for the first time and address any areas of confusion. If you know someone who has been a grant reviewer in the past, he would be a great person to ask. You aren’t limited to one peer reviewer so if you have more resources, use them.

9. Include a cover letter.

Including a cover letter with your proposal is vital. The cover letter will give your reviewers their first impression of your project. You want to include what your project is, how much money you are asking for, and why your project aligns with the mission of the funding agency. It would also be beneficial to let the reader know what you have included in your proposal.

10. Follow up with funding agencies.

After receiving funding from an agency, it is important to maintain a good relationship with them. Often times, if you build a relationship with the agency, they will be more likely to thoughtfully consider further funding requests. If there are any reports or documents requested by the agency, get them filed in a timely manner. You can also keep them updated on the status of your project, what results you have obtained and how these results will be used. You can even send a copy of any publications you produce as a result of the project.

Following these 10 tips, you can increase your chances of your grant proposal being accepted. The more quality applications you submit, the higher your chances of being funded. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find funding on your first try, but take the feedback given to you into consideration and make revisions to your proposal and try again.

Rebecca Talley
GoldBio Staff Writer

Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.

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