Writing a research grant application, as with most things, is an acquired skill. But, with practice and by applying a few successful techniques, you can increase your odds of receiving a research grant. As an academic and behavioral scientist, I have realized the importance of developing the skills necessary for writing a good grant proposal. When I wrote my first grant application, I did not have any idea what I was doing! It took me at least five or six grant applications before I wrote a successful one. Here are some tips I recommend based on my experience writing grant applications.
Review Your Drafts Again and Again
The key to improving your writing for any grant is to revise your drafts as much as you can. Just start to write and take a break. I have noticed that after taking a day off from the draft I wrote, I can look at it with fresh eyes and spot improvements.
Many graduate students wait to be inspired to write. Do not let that happen to you! Set aside 30 minutes every morning or every night to write. Once you have a draft ready, have it reviewed by your colleagues, advisor, or friends. It is even better if you can have it reviewed by someone who is not in your field. They will be able to point out confusing parts or suggest ways to improve your drafts. Often, the grant committee comprises individuals who are not familiar with the specifics of your field. Therefore, it is best to write as simply as you can and use as little jargon as possible.
Take a Grant Writing Class
Last year, I took a grant writing course at Indiana University that was heavily focused on how to write for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants. Although I have not applied for an NIH grant yet, I was able to understand the process and writing style needed for a research grant. Additionally, I was able to get feedback on my papers from other colleagues and review others’ work. At the end of the semester, everyone in the class had at least one full research grant written. Although our work was not perfect, we were certainly more confident in writing similar grants.
Avoid Flowery Words
Be less flowery and more direct! Do not use words that are unnecessary and avoid using jargon or overly technical words. If you find that a word in a sentence is not needed, then it is best to leave that word out. When you write, think of how you would describe your research to an audience who is not familiar with your topic. Practice an elevator speech about your research project in terms of what it is and why it is needed. This will help you think out loud and refine the concepts of your project in your mind.
Prepare Ahead of Time
The timeline for many research grants is quite short, lasting only a couple of weeks. Do not wait until the last minute to prepare your application! Many grants occur on a yearly basis. If you have set your mind on a particular grant and you know when the application window will open, prepare your application materials in advance. For example, you should:
- Request nomination or recommendation letters ahead of time
- Write your drafts early on and get them reviewed
- Block out an hour of your schedule each month and update your curriculum vitae (CV)
- See resources available on your campus to have your CV and application materials reviewed
Follow the Grant’s Instructions
It is critical to follow all the instructions stipulated in the grant. Grants are highly competitive and many applications get rejected because the requested font, line spacing, or length of paper has not been followed. Follow all the instructions and make it easy for the reviewer to read your grant application.
Go for Small Grants First
If you have never applied for any grant before, my advice to you is to go for smaller grants. Try to apply for internal grants available within your department or school. Grants beget grants. Once you get confident writing small grants, you will be able to tackle the much more competitive ones.
My last piece advice to you is to remember that grant writing is a process. Do not be harsh on yourself if you do not succeed in your first applications!
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