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

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 http://www.mendeley.com/funding. 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.

Getting Grant Funding for Your Startup

Jan Reichelt

Jan Reichelt, Co-founder and President of Mendeley, talks about his experience of using grants from funding bodies such as EUREKA and the Technology Strategy Board to help grow the company.

Ellie

By: Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, Co-founder of Grant Central

Is there such a thing as a free lunch when it comes to startup funding? That’s the question hanging in the air as I sit down with Jan Reichelt, co-founder of Mendeley, a research collaboration platform boasting over 3 million users and touted as one of the startups most likey to change the world for the better. If anyone had the answer, that would be Jan: on top of a Series A funding and acquisition by Reed Elsevier, over the past 6 years Mendeley has won a slew of national and EU grants whose precise number Jan seems to have lost track of.

Equity-free money in the form of grants holds a special allure for bootstrapped, cash-starved startup founders – an allure Jan is quick to dispel. Grants are like a sweetener, he says. They are nice to have, but startups shouldn’t count on them. Even if you get one, the money can be slow to come in, so you need to have other funding sources ready at hand.

Back in 2008, when Mendeley applied for the EUREKA Eurostars grant scheme, the startup had already secured seed funding and was eyeing VC investment to develop its research collaboration platform. The grant wouldn’t make or break Jan’s vision; rather, it just turned out to be the right fit at the right time.

Jan wouldn’t recommend the grant route for most startups, invoking the somewhat laborious process of obtaining and managing the funds. The amount of time you have to dedicate to writing the application through to forming a partnership to reporting and monitoring the project is only justified if you can find the right fit between your goals and the purpose of the grant, he says.

Grants such as the ones offered by Eurostars exist for two main reasons: to encourage research or to facilitate collaboration between academia and businesses. Mendeley fit both requirements, as the startup was looking to engage with academic experts in crowdsourcing and modern semantic technologies in order to provide real-time impact analysis for its platform users.

With the grant, the startup was able to create a win-win consortium by partnering with the Estonian Technology Competence Centre in Electronics-, Info- and Communication Technologies (ELIKO) and Austria’s Competence Centre for Knowledge Management (Know-Center).

Besides fit, another consideration businesses need to keep in mind is the rigidity of most EU grant schemes vis-a-vis VC funding. Grant applications often call for specific development plans and growth projections over 2 to 4 years down the line – something almost unthinkable for startups used to changing direction (or “pivoting”) on the go. A grant entails pre-committing to a certain course of action and any later changes, while possible, require reasonable justification and official permission from the government funders. A helpful strategy, Jan offers, is to make up a story and define your roadmap broadly enough to leave room for flexibility.

Grants require founders to maintain constant communication, as rules call for regular financial and technical reports to keep the funding authorities apprised of any progress, delays and changes to the project. Consortium agreements and allocation of responsibilities among partners also come with their own set of communication challenges. One example is deciding who would own the IP developed, – an issue that can become tricky if there are two or more commercial partners involved. Further still, aligning academic and business needs may require careful treading – or what Jan aptly describes as “hand holding” – in order to keep the theoretically appealing in line with the practical commercial realities.

Grant funding can appear rather rigorous to founders tied in the day-to-day running of business, and Jan, who tackled the initial Eurostars application by himself, concedes that the initial learning curve can be steep. Apart from hammering out a comprehensive application, he needed to then setup solid management and reporting processes in the post-grant period. And yet grants, while no free lunch, offer an opportunity for startups to grow on their own terms if they can muster the management skill, clear vision and R&D potential.

Have you had any experience of applying for similar grants? Share them with us in the comments!

Top Tips for Crowdfunding Your Research

 

Crowdfunding for Research

We had a great response to our last blog post about crowdfunding for research, with lots of people joining our Mendeley Crowdfunding Group and emailing questions and comments.

So yesterday I joined a live Google Hangout with the folks from Indiegogo to try and answer some of those questions and also give some general guidelines about how to start a campaign to raise research funds through crowdfunding.

Breanna DiGiammarino, Educational Vertical Lead at Indiegogo, advised researchers to think about what audience their research speaks to, but also pointed out that you can often be surprised at how many people are interested in what might seem a very niche subject. Crowdfunding, she explains, reaches a wide global audience, and that reach can be much bigger than you expect.Read More »