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Scientific Grant Writing Tips

It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain funding for your grant applications to federal and non-federal sources. Funding success rates at the NIH, NSF, and DOD continue to drop each year with no relief in sight. This means that successful grants must combine outstanding science with impeccable presentation.

An outstanding grant begins with a great research idea based on a meaningful hypothesis that generates important research questions. Combine this with a high-quality scientific approach and communicate your ideas effectively in your written proposal. Use the following tips as a guide. Although these tips may sound simple, they are critical to the success of any grant.

  1. Identify sources of funding that match your capabilities and areas of research expertise.
  2. When responding to a programmatic initiative, discuss the project you plan to submit with the scientific research director of the funding agency.
  3. Read and follow all instructions carefully. This may sound obvious, but is frequently overlooked.
  4. Begin writing your grant early enough to have a draft completed at least 1 month before the deadline.
  5. Ask other successful investigators or hire an editing service to proofread your grant and provide feedback. Be sure to give them plenty of time to do so without needing to rush.
  6. Make sure your grant is grammatically correct. This not only helps the reviewers focus on the science, it reduces the chances of misunderstanding your goals and technical approaches.
  7. Do not overestimate the reviewers. Be sure to define all assumptions and limitations.
  8. Write clear, focused aims and methods. It is useful to have one or two aims that are clearly feasible and rather direct extensions of your preliminary data and one or two aims that incorporate more imagination and innovation.
  9. Create a reasonable budget. You will be penalized for a budget that is unreasonably high or low.
  10. Be reasonable about the amount of work the project entails. "Unfocused" and "over-ambitious" are study section criticisms that commonly move applications out of the funding range.
  11. Don't be discouraged if your initial application misses the pay line. As funds become tighter, resubmission has become a necessary fact of life.

In addition to these critical requirements, we recommend that you refine your scientific writing skills by taking one of our Scientific Writing Workshops.