Any project can be divided into ten easy steps, the same goes for your pending grant application. While all sponsors prefer different font sizes and paper margins, most everyone will require some mix of these ten elements:
1. A Driving Need in Your Field
This may come as a shock, but unfortunately there is not enough money in the world to fund every study. In order to get your research funded, you must identify the driving needs in your field–what are the major problem areas? What are the questions people need answered in order to move the field forward? The deep and driving questions that will change the way people do research…not just a copy-cat spin-off idea from your mentor. Do something that’s original.
2. A fantastic idea to solve that need.
Perhaps ‘solving’ the driving need is a bit too drastic if you are just starting out, but your idea at least has to shed a considerable amount of new and unique knowledge that will ultimately lead to solving your driving need.
3. A funding agency with a mission statement to solve your diving need.
No one will fund your research unless they truly believe, as much as you believe, that your driving need is important. So find the people who are interesting not only in your field, but in solving your need. Look at vision and mission statements. Think of it as “speaking their language” and align your proposal with their organizational values.
4. The background behind the need in your field.
Even though you are “speaking their language” remind your reviewers why this is a driving need in your field, and how very vitally important it truly is to find these answers. Explain the research that has already been done to bring the field to its current state, explain what created the driving need and what are the consequences if it doesn’t get solved. Be specific, concise, and focused about your particular driving need and set the stage for how you plan to solve it.
5. The main research proposal with a feasible plan of action.
Now that you’ve established there is a serious problem, it’s your time to swoop in and be the hero to explain how you will save the day. You have to state exactly how you’re going to it, why you want to do it, and lay out exactly what the reviewers can expect to get at the end of the project. What is the return on investment? Link your plan to the background information to give it a solid foundation and explain your project in a clear and methodical fashion.
6. The resources available to make it happen.
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” You have to clearly show the reviewers that you have the best plan, and all the resources readily available to make it all happen. You are not Cinderella and the funding agency is not your Fairy Godmother. You need to have the dress, shoes, and carriage waiting outside ready to go. Prove the reviewers that you are prepared and equipped to run with the project. You know the software you will use, you have the space allocated for your study team, and you are ready, willing, and able to ensure this project starts on the best foot forward from day one.
You are not Cinderella and the funding agency is not your Fairy Godmother.
7. The people and places involved to make it happen.
You do not live in a vacuum, and the reviewers know it. Two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two. Iron Man vs. The Avengers. Establish a superhero team of knowledge to back you up and keep the project moving forward. Your reviewers will likely be semi-experts in your field. If you claim to have “the world’s leading expert on ______” you better be telling the truth. Brag about your people. Make the reviewers understand who is on your team, what they will be responsible for, and where the deliverable are coming from–this will help them understand the background behind the budget numbers you are requesting.
8. The budget to support it.
The reviewers know how far a dollar can be stretched. They can see what other researchers are doing to make the most out of the money, and they want to be sure that their sponsor dollars go to fund the best projects that will make the most of their investment. Show them clearly that you are using every cent to its full capacity. The budget justification is usually one of the only documents that doesn’t have page limits, use this space to its maximum benefit and show the reviewers what every dollar is worth.
9. The supporting materials to brag about your abilities.
Every proposal application has supporting materials: cover letter, letters of support, biosektches, project summary/abstract, etc. These documents may seem like useless obligatory requirement but they are VITAL to the success of your proposal. Reviewers will look over the biosketches to truly understand the people on your team–and yet the majority of researchers spend all of 3 minutes creating their biosketch. When you ask for a letter of support, ask each person to focus on a different aspect of the project or driving need to ensure that you don’t get five letters that say the same thing. Craft a cover letter and summary after you’ve completed your research plan–ensure that they are creative and eye-catching, hook the reviewer onto your project within the first paragraph every time.
10. A plan to tell the world of your genius.
Reviewers will want to know how you plan to disseminate your results at the end of the study–do you plan to publish? Where and how? What conferences will you attend to brag about the results and give credit to the sponsor for their involvement? How will you move the field forward? Make a clear plan to tell the world about your genius at the end of the project, how you will make the software you developed public-use, or how other sites might begin to duplicate your methods. Let your genius out and show it to the world.
These are the ten elements of almost every research proposal, and a few tips on how to write each section for maximum impact. Good luck and happy writing!