How to nail a grant application

Research grants are fundamental to progressing your academic career. Drafting a great application can mean the difference between fulfilling your research ambitions and stalling your career. A well-written application takes considerable time and effort to perfect. The style of writing is likely to differ from your accustomed style of prose, however, by following these guiding principles, you can breathe life into your application.


Know the odds

Just a quarter to a third of grant applications will be approved or renewed. Understand the approval rate and familiarise yourself with research that has been successfully funded in the past.

Be prepared to resubmit several times, and, with the odds stacked against you, be ready for rejection. It’s nothing personal, it’s a process and you’re not alone. Identify the key deadlines and the funding cycle – timing is everything.


Think like your funder

Before you begin to write your application, read then re-read the application requirements.

Identify the key problem(s) or goal areas for which you are requesting funding. Once you have identified suitable potential funders, take the time to understand their guiding principles, program interests and criteria.


Structure your application to include:

  • A strong title to draw readers in
  • Evidence to support the hypotheses
  • Proposed experiments
  • Explain how the data will be analysed or how results will be interpreted
  • Discussion of the design
  • Relevant citations


Peer review

Ask your colleagues to look over your research plan and get their feedback. By running your grant application by other academics, you will have the chance to pick up on potential weaknesses and improve it. Use your extended network to ask experienced academics to give you their thoughts, then proofread your manuscript before submission.


Use clear, simple, language

Even after researching your funder and becoming familiar with previous successful projects, don’t make any assumptions about the reviewer’s knowledge. Be unambiguous and avoid extraneous jargon. Use a ‘key terms’ section to make it easy for the reader to look up specialist words. Never assume the reviewer is familiar with every other related piece of research; cross-references should be properly cited and correctly formatted in the reference section.


Be realistic

Include no more than two to four aims at the most. Each aim should achievable within the time available. Specific aims should be logical and ‘stand alone’. You should be able to justify each aim in a few lines. Practice pitching each aim to yourself to reduce it down to the essentials: What is it? How will it be achieved? Why is it relevant?


A killer abstract

The abstract should be the final section that you write. Set out your goals and your argument for the relevance of the research. Remember to include a brief overview of the methodology and indicate what work has already been completed. The abstract should be driven by the hypotheses. Ask yourself whether it is comprehensible and addresses the funding criteria.


In summary

Clear well-written proposals fare better in submissions than long rambling pieces using specialised jargon and making assumptions about the readers. Familiarise yourself with successful grant applications to get a feel for the recommended style and content.

You can read more about brainstorming techniques for grant applications in this blog post. For more useful writing tips, read our article on Proposal Writing, Assert and Justify Style.


Further reading

Grant Application Writing Examples

Examples of Successful Grant Proposals


The Global Academy Jobs guides to:

When grant writing goes bad

13 Common shortcomings of grant proposals 

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