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Grant Writing: Best Practices and Resources

To Do List

  1. Make and keep writing appointment with yourself as if you are meeting with the chancellor or president. Studies have shown that frequency of sitting down to write matters more than the duration.
  2. If you have the typical appointment of 40/40/20 for teaching, research and service, then that means you should be working on your proposals and publications, the results of your research, for approximately 16 hours a week if only working a 40-hour work week. Most faculty work more than that, but it is sound advice to split your time proportionately so your portfolio is balanced.
  3. Begin with the outline completed in the planning stages. Keep the guidelines close for frequent consultation.
  4. Draft your aims and share them with mentors and colleagues before you write the rest of the proposal. Refine them before you write the entire proposal.
  5. Plan your writing so that you have time to share with colleagues and “friendly” reviewers at least two weeks prior to deadline. Give them a deadline for their comments when making the request.
  6. The “friendly” review: Ask colleagues and experienced grant recipients to review your grant as a reviewer would. Ask them to poke holes in your logic and approach like a reviewer might do. It is better to hear it from your friends and colleagues than the reviewers!
  7. Avoid jargon and write so that an educated reader with a degree in a different field so study can follow the logic of your project.

The Science of Scientific Writing

Recommended Writing Style

ACTIVE voice; first person reference to self or lab is ok in most cases; short sentences and paragraphs; format your page margins with extra space to start. If you run out of room, you can then narrow the margins as needed. Be sure to check allowable fonts and sizes for narrative as well as the graphics. Develop illustrations and tables as needed for your previous work or narrative.

What Do Reviewers Look For?

Reviewers have forms to complete, and you can make it easy for them. It is always good to keep your reviewers happy and free from frustration. Create headings for the review criteria and any place you want some special emphasis.

Review Criteria generally evaluate the significance (NIH Seminar, 2008: this section is typically the most poorly written so give it some extra love), facilities (environment), the investigative team (PI, Co-Is, Consultants, Subcontracts), Approach (methods), Innovation, and Overall Impact. Although these are specific to NIH, other agencies generally use similar review criteria. Make sure you use the ones specific to your potential sponsor. Use the same terms used by the sponsor to make it easiest on the reviewer.

Grant Writer Support
  • Edit your draft for logic and style
  • Copyedit the final narrative
  • Draft and insert tables and figures as needed
  • Help decide if an external person or organization is a vendor, subcontract, or consultant

Peer Support
  • Seek out established peers and winning researchers in the department, college or greater university. It is important that someone outside your immediate field can still follow your logic and research design.
  • Help decide if an external person or organization is a vendor, subcontract, or consultant.
  • Advise on research design, collaborators and building a team

Budget Development

To Do List: Schedule an appointment with the Grant Writer or other grant staff to develop your budget.

Direct Costs: Costs that can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity, or that can be directly assigned to such activities relatively easily with a high degree of accuracy.

F&A Costs: Necessary costs incurred by a recipient for a common or joint purpose benefitting more than one cost objective, and not readily assignable to the cost objectives specifically benefitted, without effort disproportionate to the results achieved. These include facilities, maintenance, libraries, housekeeping, electricity and more.

Cost Considerations:

  • Know your limits! Carefully read the guidelines for budget criteria. You should look for limits on the types of expenses (e.g. no construction allowed), spending caps on certain expenses (e.g. travel limited to $10,000), and overall funding limits.
  • Identify all the costs that are necessary and reasonable to complete the work described in your proposal.
  • The best strategy is to request a reasonable amount money to do the work, not more and not less because:
    • Reviewers look for reasonable costs and will judge whether your request is justified by your aims and methods. Reviewers will consider the person months you’ve listed for each of the senior/key personnel and will judge whether the figures are in sync with reviewer expectations, based on the research proposed. Significant over- or under-estimating suggests you may not understand the scope of the work.
Grant Writer Support
  • Draft your budget using appropriate salaries, fringe benefit rates, F&A rates.
  • Help decide if an external person or organization is a vendor, subcontract, or consultant.

Peer Support
  • Seek out advice for budgetary needs for conducting the work (effort, data collection, surveys, compensation, etc.).