Research Grant Proposal Writing in 2022: What You Need to Know

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To streamline your research grant proposal writing, obtain all application materials and guidelines from your chosen grantors. Any extra information about granting foundations can help you to tailor your submission to their requirements. 

Before you begin to write, carefully review the relevant request for proposals.

Many granting agencies provide detailed guidelines that you can use to structure your work. Take special note of the components required to qualify for funding, including formatting and page count.

Tip: It can be helpful to obtain copies of successful grant proposals to use as grant writing proposal examples.

Outline

Based on these details, prepare a proposal outline. An outline keeps your grant proposal writing organized and ensures that team members stay on the same page.

The following sections are essential to most proposal outlines because they reflect the requirements of most granting organizations:

  • Synopsis
  • Body
  • Qualifications
  • Budget

Synopsis

First, the synopsis concisely presents the most important elements of the proposal, which include the following:

  • The purpose or goal of the proposed project
  • The need filled or problem solved by the project (i.e., the project's significance)
  • The expected outcomes and how you will reach them
  • A description of the organization or research team

Tip: As the first element of the proposal, the synopsis should be highly tailored to the grantor's values and mission.

Synopsis Example

The goal of this project is to gather a large-scale spoken corpus of the Spanish of North Central Florida. This corpus, which would be the first to document the speech of Spanish speakers in the southeastern United States, will provide recorded and transcribed data for analysis by researchers for decades to come. To this end, our team will conduct sociolinguistic interviews with 250 Spanish-speaking residents of Orlando and the surrounding suburban areas, which will then be transcribed and entered into a database. The research team will consist of the PI, who is an associate professor at State University, and State University graduate students who have been trained in sociolinguistic interview methods.

Body

Next, the main body of the proposal outlines the gap that the proposed project will fill, how the project proposes to fill it, and the importance of doing so. It may include the following subsections:

  • An examination of the need/problem addressed by the project (e.g., a lack of resources, services, or knowledge; the background of the problem [may include data or a literature review for academic grants]; the benefits of addressing the problem)
  • A plan for the project, also called a "description of the project," "project narrative," "project goals," "objectives and methodology," or "strategies and tactics" (e.g., the goals and expected outcomes, the methodologies/strategies that will be used to reach these goals, and a timeline for achieving these goals)

Body Excerpt Example

Orlando, Florida and its surrounding area has one of the fastest growing populations of Spanish speakers in the United States. Indeed, over a quarter of its current population speaks Spanish. Unlike populations in the Southwest and New York, Spanish-speaking communities in the southeastern United States, excluding Miami, are relatively new; therefore, current scholarship on the Spanish of the United States has neglected this population, focusing instead mainly on New Mexico and New York.  [ . . . ] 

Participants for the study will be recruited through several methods, including social media, the snowball method (friend of a friend), and fliers at local gathering sites, such as churches and community centers. Care will be taken to collect a relatively balanced sample in terms of national origin (or the origin of parents for participants born in the United States). Participants will be asked to participate in a one-hour interview, which will be audio recorded using Lavalier microphones connected to smartphone devices. Interviews will include both traditional sociolinguistic topics, including personal narratives, and sociohistorical and linguistic information about the participants and their communities.  [ . . . ] 

The initial data collection phase, including team preparation and training, recruitment, and travel to and from Orlando to carry out sociolinguistic interviews, is expected to last approximately three years, with the transcription phase expected to last a further two. Transcription will begin as soon as the first data are collected. A database housing all of the transcribed interviews, as well as versions of the audio recordings with personally identifying information removed, will be maintained by the PI and her department in perpetuity. We expect this corpus to serve as the basis for dozens of published academic papers and dissertations, ranging from phonological and morphosyntactic analyses to language contact studies and critical discourse analyses.

Qualifications

This section provides evidence of your team's ability to carry out the proposed project. As such, it may include such information as the following:

  • Biographies of team members
  • A summary of the organization/team's past performance
  • The purpose of the organization
  • A financial overview 

Qualifications Example

The PI, a trained sociolinguist with a PhD in Spanish linguistics and an MA in cultural anthropology, has been teaching sociolinguistic methods to graduate students for 15 years. She has successfully gathered sociolinguistic data in both the United States and Mexico, and has built her own corpus of Mexican data, which has served as the basis for five publications in top-tier academic journals. All team members will be affiliated with State University, which is one of the top five public universities in the United States and which houses the top-ranked Spanish department in the southeastern US. We are requesting a total of $16,450 to fund this project.

Budget

The budget provides a transparent breakdown of how you will use any funds. Grantors may require that the materials and equipment be justified using supporting documents.

Budget Example

The funds requested will be used to cover travel, meals while in Orlando, compensation for participants, and Lavalier microphones to lend to student researchers. This includes 250 round trips to Orlando by car (at $30 each), totaling $7,500 (https://www.travelmath.com/), two meals per trip (@$15), totaling another $7,500, and compensation for participants (250 @ $5) at $1,250. Lavalier microphones are available for iPhone on Amazon at $40 per pair. A total of 10 microphones will be needed, totaling $200. Thus, the total requested amount is $16,450.

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Tips for Research Grant Writing

To take your grant proposal writing from good to great, keep the following tips in mind as you write. 

Be Convincing but Realistic

Persuasive language has a place when writing a grant proposal. However, it is important to state realistically what your project can achieve. Be honest, but do not be afraid to emphasize the significance of your work.

Customize Each Proposal

Never use the same proposal twice. Tailor each grant proposal to the respective granting organization when writing a grant proposal.

Look for keywords in the grantor's mission statement or statement of values. Use these terms to show that your project is a suitable candidate for funding. 

Tip: If your project is truly aligned with the grantor's mission, you should be able to naturally fit keywords into your grant proposal writing.

Ensure Your Copy is Readable

Write in clear, straightforward language. Do not use too much jargon or too many acronyms, and be sure to avoid redundancy. Where specialized language is unavoidable, define it clearly.

Make sure to provide a balanced amount of information. Too little detail will obscure how well you have planned your project. However, too much detail might overwhelm the reader and overshadow your greater purpose. Follow our rules for effective academic writing.

Enlist a Second Pair of Eyes

It is always helpful to have someone else read your work. When writing a grant proposal, it can be especially helpful to talk to a mentor in your field. An expert can give feedback based on their knowledge of successful grant proposals in your research area.

Seek out previous recipients of your target grants, too. They can provide insight based on experience. Another option is to seek professional editing by a subject matter expert.

Keep Applying

Apply for multiple grants of all sizes, and do not worry about rejection. Being denied funding just means that the grantor and your proposal were not the right fit at the right time.

Tip: Remember that even the most worthwhile projects do not always receive funding. The important thing is to keep trying.

Conclusion

Use our tips for research grant writing and our grant writing proposal examples to best reflect the value and potential of your work. 

The process of applying for grants presents many opportunities for learning and building relationships. In addition, the experience can help to improve your chances of success in subsequent applications.

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