How to write a good research funding application

How can one write an application effectively to maximise the chances of success?

By Seema Sharma

Grant writing for research funding can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but one that underpins your academic success. We’ve put together some useful pointers and advice to help you with the application process.

Do your background work: Funding bodies, eligibility and guidelines

Prior to starting a grant proposal, it’s essential to study your funding source. Ask yourself— is this the right funding body to apply to, for your proposed research? What details are included in the funding opportunity announcement? What recent grants have they approved in a similar specialism to yours? What are their other calls to funding? Does your research match their priorities?

If you feel that your research traverses two disciplines, one of which your funding body may not cover, it’s worth contacting them to discuss the details and relevance.

Individual funding bodies have differing criteria for research funding applications that need to be followed closely, with many opting for online submission. For example in the UK, the Research Councils (RCUK) use a Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) form. Whilst the framework is very similar, each of the seven individual councils that make up RCUK, have differences in guidelines, page length and format. Further details for RCUK are available here. Individual councils also provide case studies of best practice applications that can be useful to read as a pointer.

In the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an online submission system using an SF424 form, again with a defined format. They provide online tips to help with completing your application.

All funding bodies will provide guidelines for submission, usually available as a document to download from their site. These must be read carefully and digested. Any applications must strictly adhere to what’s stipulated, as you risk your proposal not being accepted at all, or annoying the panel and reviewers before they’ve even given consideration to the content, however outstanding, if you don’t.

Be aware of the different sections they need from you and the page limit. If it’s a few pages — you can’t include every detail, but will need to be succinct and prioritise the key facts that are asked for. Take care to emphasise how your proposed project fits into their criteria, at every stage of the application.

Leave plenty of time

You need to allow yourself plenty of time ahead of the deadline, to prepare a grant application. Each section requires due care and attention, with time set aside for you to review and get feedback from colleagues before submission. Reviewers complain that it’s sometimes clear that researchers have spent the majority of their time on the case for support, rushing critical areas like budgets and an impact plan

Be clear and get feedback in advance

Outstanding research that receives good peer reviews from the experts in the field is essential to your grant application’s success. However, bear in mind that some members of your reviewing panel may not be specialists in your particular field. As such, clearly articulated statements on the significance of the project for a lay research audience, are also crucial to include.

Try to articulate how your work is going to change things, transform thinking in the field or advance research. It’s an area that has to be perceived as important within your specific discipline and beyond. A useful way to get feedback for improving clarity is to ask colleagues, who are not experts in the field, to read it and provide input, making adjustments as required. Furthermore, asking colleagues, who have applied successfully to the same funding body, to review the proposal can prove invaluable.

Explain the impact

Most grant applications include a section for you to discuss the impact of your research. It’s acknowledged that some proposals result in an academic advance in understanding, without an immediate applied impact. If this is the case, bear in mind reviewers will expect you to know and state how your research fits into a pathway that will lead to an application.

If there is a clear academic impact, the panel will want to know how you will deliver this to relevant peers and get the message out, beyond relying on others to read a publication. Examples here would be through conference engagements or collaboration. If your research has a wider societal or economic impact, public engagement should also be discussed.

Choose the best team for the work

You need to include the details of a strong team to deliver the research and stipulate exactly what they will be doing. A common grievance from reviewers is that researchers include a name that is well known, just to influence the panel, without specifying a clear contribution. If a junior researcher is going to be doing the majority of the work, you should be clear about that. Additionally, your role in the project should be clear. Your application may require you to attach a short form CV or resumé for all those individuals involved in the project.

Budget carefully and provide value for money

Your application should be presented as good value for money to the funding body. All aspects of the project should be budgeted for. Reviewers tend to pick through things quite carefully, to insure the individual components of the project have been appropriately costed. Over-costing can kill your application. Ask yourself, does the advance you will make in the field justify the cost of the project?

Provide a clear methodology

Reviewers focus most on the quality of the core research in your application. As such, it’s important to explain and reference detail of the methodology and experiments. Make sure you include data analysis methods — sometimes requested in the form of a data management plan, and avoid being vague.

In summary: 

Avoid common pitfalls:

  • Writing only for specialists in your field
  • Proposing a project that does not meet the funding call criteria
  • Not allowing yourself enough time
  • Over-costing or poor budgeting
  • Neglecting the impact plan
  • Not clarifying your role or contribution in the project
  • Unclear methodology
  • Repetition

Given the constraints on public funding, judging panels for grants and peer reviewers will select proposals that, not only include outstanding science or research, but also incorporate carefully thought out plans to reach end-users, represent value for money, with methodology that’s clearly detailed and budgeted.

Need Funding Opportunities? Mendeley Users: visit Mendeley FundingMore Information

Mendeley Brainstorm – The Gig Economy: Potent or Precarious?

The gig economy has made services cheaper and more convenient; but is there a downside?

The “gig economy” is a fact of life. To “Uber” has become a verb. Airbnb is ubiquitous. People sell their skills in short term engagements via freelancing websites. This has opened up a world of low-cost services; however, is the gig economy’s destruction of secure employment worth it? We are looking for the most well thought out answer to this question in up to 150 words: use the comment feature below the blog and please feel free to promote your research! The winner will receive an Amazon gift certificate worth £50 and a bag full of Mendeley items; competition closes July 12, 2017.

A New Economy

People used to “take a taxi” or “get a cab”, now they just as readily “Uber” to wherever they want to go. This shift in language is indicative of a broader change in the economy: with Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and other services, people are becoming accustomed to ordering services online from contracted individuals who are “paid by the gig”.

The Upsides

Anyone who has had trouble getting a cab in the middle of a crowded city can appreciate the convenience and low cost of utilising Uber. Airbnb offers real experiences of living in a location rather than a sanitised venue. Being able to hire a freelancer to do everything from design birthday cards to editing manuscripts is extremely convenient and much cheaper than it once was.

The Downsides

Employment in the gig economy is precarious and not necessarily well paid. Furthermore, secure professions like taxi driver and employment in hotels is under threat. Competing in a world, online marketplace tends to favour lower cost providers.

The Future?

Is the Gig Economy just a fact of life? Or can we make changes to lessen its downsides? What is your view? Tell us!

About Mendeley Brainstorms

Our Brainstorms are challenges so we can engage with you, our users, on the hottest topics in the world of research.  We look for the most in-depth and well thought through responses; the best response as judged by the Mendeley team will earn a prize.

Mendeley Brainstorm – The End of Driving – We Have a Winner!

Driving can be put beyond the reach of human error; but is that a mistake?

Many thanks to all those who entered the Mendeley Brainstorm related to The End of Driving; picking a winner was difficult, however in the end, we selected Anikó Tóth’s post:

Repeatedly through history, we’ve built machines that do what we do, better. Today, we’ve progressed from labor-saving to IQ-saving devices: machines that think and act so that we don’t have to ourselves. Do I believe that driverless cars would eventually make transportation safer? Absolutely. They will follow the rules, react lightning-fast, and simultaneously integrate input from multiple sensors. We still face challenges, of course. You know when that schmuck in the BMW is about to cut you off…but how to teach such intuition to a machine? Then there’s the cyber battle, crucial for the security of these devices. As we accept driverless cars, we must understand that many will inevitably become helpless without them—and this, not the engineering, is our chief peril. I know people who couldn’t drive a manual to save their lives, or get lost en route to the supermarket without a gps. Where does it end?

We asked Anikó what inspired her, she wrote:

My answer actually had nothing to do with my research (I’m a paleontologist/macroecologist phd student). It stemmed from a personal and family philosophy that is equal parts old-fashioned and progressive. As a scientist who comes from a family of mathematicians, engineers, and scientists I believe deeply in the power of technology to change the world. I also believe it is vitally important to understand and remember the things that made us human (Who do you know that can build a fire? Cook/bake from scratch? Read a map? Wire up a radio? Defend themselves physically? Have a meaningful conversation with a stranger? Sew? Do maths? First aid? Change a flat tire? the list goes on). Of course, making forward progress while keeping in touch with your roots is challenging, but challenges bring out the best in us, do they not?

Those who didn’t win this time are encouraged to respond to the latest Mendeley Brainstorm, regarding The Future of Energy. Thanks again to all our participants.

Mendeley Data adopts Google Science Datasets standards

Mendeley Data is pleased to announce that we’ve adopted the new Google Science Datasets markup standard for datasets.

For the non-computer science buffs amongst us, this means we describe our datasets in a structured way recognised by Google – which helps Google to index our datasets, and makes them more readily available in their search results.

This also means Google could eventually show datasets in a special way within search results, perhaps by presenting a “rich snippet” for a dataset like the example for a research article below. This makes them more visible and easier to scan by readers.

An example of a “rich snippet” search result, in this case for a research article


This applies to all datasets posted so far, as well as any new datasets.

This is all part of our efforts to make the data you share as discoverable as possible by researchers, so that it can be valuable to the community and you can get credit for generating and sharing it.

Any questions, thoughts or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.


Introducing Mendeley Funding

Mendeley Funding is a new tool to help researchers find the opportunities to launch their projects.

Researchers are under more pressure than ever before to secure the money they need to do their work. The funding exists: the predicted worldwide spend on research in 2016 was $1.9 trillion. This was an increase of 3.4% on the previous year.

But with so many grants available in such a myriad of subjects via such a large variety of institutions, how can a researcher match their aspirations to the right opportunity?

We’re pleased to announce the launch of Mendeley Funding.

Mendeley Funding is a new tool which catalogues funding opportunities from across the globe. It includes calls for proposals from prominent organisations including the European Union, government departments in the United States like the National Institutes of Health, UK Research councils, and many more.

By using Mendeley Funding, Researchers can:

  • Search for relevant funding
  • Save interesting opportunities
  • Access detailed information about funders

For more information, visit Then sign in to Mendeley, access the tool by using the link marked “Funding” in the toolbar, and get searching. A world of opportunities awaits you.

What a disaster! (but this Pint of Science blog post isn’t one!)


Earthquakes don’t kill people; People kill people. That is the (maybe?) controversial statement Ilan Kelman is putting forth in his Pint of Science talk next week. Kelman, a reader at University

Ilan Kelman

College London (UK) and University of Agder (Norway), explains how typical environmental events such as earthquakes and storms are made to become disasters through human actions and decisions.

Mendeley is proud to be partnering with Pint of Science for the third year running.

As an introduction to the great talks on offer we’re going to be previewing some of the most interesting here on the Mendeley Blog, featuring speakers from across all Pint of Science themes. You can follow along on our blog under the tag PintofScience17 or on Twitter under the hashtag #pint17.

You can book tickets to hear Ilan live in London on 15 May or follow him on Twitter @IlanKelman.


Saving lives in earthquakes

How many deaths have been caused by earthquakes throughout history? Tens of millions? Millions? Hundreds of thousands? The answer, perhaps, is close to zero.

This response sounds odd. We remember Haiti’s devastation in 2010. Christchurch, New Zealand has not recovered from 2011. Italy, too frequently, has been in the news as rescuers go in after tremors and, sadly, sometimes come out without success. It seems disrespectful to those who died and to those who survived to claim that the earthquakes did not cause the deaths.

Let’s examine more closely what happened during these quakes. Haiti was known to be seismically active. Buildings, from dwellings for the poor to hotels, collapsed due to shoddy construction. Nearly two-thirds of the 185 Christchurch deaths occurred in one badly designed building. Despite Italy’s long history of fatal earthquakes, many structures are not retrofitted.

As many earthquake engineers’ business cards read: Earthquakes don’t kill people; collapsing buildings do.

We know how to design and build all types of structures—bridges, homes, apartments, schools, hospitals, and office blocks—to withstand earthquakes. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.

Corruption, design, and history

On 11 March 2011, a massive, shallow earthquake off Japan’s east coast sent high-rises swaying hundreds of kilometres away in Tokyo and rocked nuclear power plants. The earthquake’s damage was low thanks to exceptional engineering. The tsunami was another story, for both people killed and Fukushima.

We can choose how nature’s forces affect us. Too often, others make the choice for those affected by increasing their vulnerability.

Haiti achieved independence in 1804. Foreign interference marked the two centuries which followed. France demanded post-independence reparations, wrecking Haiti’s economy. The US occupied the country from 1915-1934. A father-son team of externally supported brutal dictatorships dominated after WWII. The Haitian people barely had an opportunity to control their own affairs, including building codes and seismic resistance.

The 2010 earthquake shattered a country wracked by two hundred years of poverty, exploitation, oppression, and underdevelopment. It took this long to create the overpopulated slums and the swathes of poorly engineered or non-engineered structures which crumbled in less than a minute of shaking. Haiti being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere was the cause of death of over 250,000 people, not the tremors.

Around the world, causes of earthquake deaths are shown to be corruption, lack of planning and building regulations, poor monitoring and enforcement of existing rules, inadequate construction, siphoning of funds, exploitation by an élite, and poverty creation. Seismicity is low down on the list of factors correlated with earthquake fatalities.

Seismicity is also the easiest factor to address. Our understanding of earthquakes and engineering is far enough advanced to know how to design and maintain infrastructure to withstand earthquakes. Our understanding of how to ensure that we implement adequate design and maintenance remains woefully lacking.

So people will continue to die in earthquakes. These deaths are caused by human, not natural, factors. The challenge is not about dealing with the earth shaking, but with ourselves.

Further reading:


Photo caption:

  • NZ: A base isolator for seismic design at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington (photo: Ilan Kelman).

Conservation at the Bristol Zoo: A Pint of Science preview

African penguins (Spheniscus demersus)

Going to the zoo was always a treat as a kid — and still is for many of us adults! But beyond seeing cute critters is some serious research and conservation work. Dr. Alison Cotton, a lecturer in conservation science at The Bristol Zoo, talks about how this West Country’s zoo has major global impact.

Dr. Alison Cotton

Mendeley is proud to be partnering with Pint of Science for the third year running.

As an introduction to the great talks on offer we’re going to be previewing some of the most interesting here on the Mendeley Blog, featuring speakers from across all Pint of Science themes. You can follow along on our blog under the tag PintofScience17 or on Twitter under the hashtag #pint17.

You can book tickets to hear Alison live in Bristol on 16 May or follow her other talks on Speakezee.


Bristol Zoo: A Conservation Tale

As many of you walk past the lemurs or the penguins at Bristol Zoo, what you might not be aware of, is that a team of scientists are working behind the scenes to help conserve these amazing species, and many more besides. This is a very important element of the zoo’s mission, but many people are unaware of the conservation work that occurs beyond the animals on view at the zoo.

We have a great team that work on native species conservation, including those that work at the Avon Gorge and Downs, which is home to over 30 rare plants including many species endemic to the gorge, as well as bats, nesting peregrine falcons and Kashmir goats. Since the education programme for the Avon Gorge and Downs project started in 2001, almost 100,000 people have engaged with local Bristol wildlife on their doorstep. There is also a huge effort being undertaken to help protect the native white-clawed crayfish throughout the South West, as well as a team dedicated to tackling the spectre of invasive weeds, such as Himalayan balsam, in the Bristol area. Internationally, we work across the globe, in countries such as South Africa, Madagascar, Cameroon, Tanzania, Costa Rica, French Polynesia, The Comoros Islands and The Philippines.

The Penguin’s Progress

My work is in South Africa, where the charismatic African penguin has undergone a dramatic population decline of over 70% in the last 17 years, as overfishing and climate change have decimated the fish stocks on which they rely. Our work to date has focussed on supporting our partner organisation in Cape Town, SANCCOB, who rescue, rehabilitate and release penguin chicks, as part of our Chick Bolstering Project, that have been abandoned by parents that are in too poor condition to care for them (as a result of depleted fish stocks), as well as penguins caught in oil spills.

Giving these chicks a head start in life has been hugely successful, and the survival rates of released chicks have been shown to mirror those of parent-reared chicks. In addition, we are heavily involved in research work, including investigating the effect of temporary fishing bans around colonies near Cape Town, monitoring penguin populations on Robben Island and investigating options for the translocation of individuals into new colonies in regions where there are more substantial fish stocks. There is so much work to be done to fully understand this catastrophic decline in penguin numbers, and there is much more than we will be doing in the future, so watch this space!

Like lemurs for chocolate

Golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli)

In Madagascar, the biodiversity situation is dire, with between 80-90% of forests having already been lost to slash and burn agriculture, and with 94% of all lemur species, the charismatic and emblematic primates that are endemic to Madagascar, already threatened with extinction. The human population is very poor, with 92% of Malagasy people surviving on less than US$2 a day. Chocolate and vanilla are both important exports for Madagascar, and much effort is being done to encourage sustainable, under-canopy production methods that minimise negative effects on habitats and biodiversity.

Our team are in the field evaluating the biodiversity impact of different production methods in both cacao (chocolate) and vanilla crops. This will provide a scientific basis to move forward with those practices that promote biodiversity. In addition to this, we are heavily involved in long-term lemur and sacred ibis conservation projects, and reforestation efforts in Madagascar.

It is vitally important that zoos are more than just a source of public entertainment. We are committed to addressing the conservation issues that threatened species face, both in terms of captive breeding of threatened species, but also through our efforts to conserve species in situ, in their natural habitats. With your support, we are doing our best to maintain as much biodiversity as possible on this amazing planet.