Writing a grant application requires real effort and time nowadays. With the growing competition each year, demands true mastery. Right after selecting your research topic, you are supposed to devise a well-structured research plan. The quality of your plan will determine whether your research will be successful or not. National Institutes of Health (NIH) will award you with a grant only if you can assure them that your proposed research will be successful. This assurance is dependent on how well you plan and write your research plan.


Background Section – the Backbone of a Grant Proposal

Here, in this article, we will focus mainly on the first section of writing your research plan, i.e., ‘Background & Significance.’ It is the main pillar of your whole research plan. This section provides information about the historical discoveries relating to your research question. It justifies your research question and the significance of its outcome in the modern world. The objective of this section is to display your command of the present literature and to convey your thoughts regarding them.

In this era of technology, an infinite pool of knowledge is present on almost every topic. Here, you have to precisely prove, via background literature, that your research is authentic and novel in every possible context (Sudheesh, Devika & Nethra, 2016). It should be an overview of your research from head to toe. Most of the reviewers will attentively read this section to measure the basis of your research project. Through this article, we will show you how your relevant research history will eventually supplement your basic research objectives and aims.


Factors for a Better Esthetics

Your background section should be esthetically strong enough to satisfy your reviewers. It should be written to catch their eye. The following ways will help you boost this section up esthetically:

Writing Limit

You are allowed to consume 4 pages at maximum in this part. Lengthy writing will make your reviewers lose interest in your research proposal. It is best to make this section precise and to the point. So, two and a half pages are good enough to represent this section.

Paragraphing & Subheadings

Writing short paragraphs with a short subheading describing its whole point will help in quickly focusing on a point. Too many lengthy paragraphs will bore the reviewer while too short paragraphs will not provide a clear concept.

Bullet points

Try to present the supporting reasons for your research in bullet points. It will make this section esthetically impressive. Also, it will provide a focus on these points.

Language & Composition

It is the cornerstone of your grant proposal’s esthetics. It represents the smoothness in your ideas conveyed to your reviewers. Your word selection should be elementary while sentence length should not be too long. There should be flow in your sentences as if one event is leading to another.


Now You Start Writing

You should be able to write according to your reviewers’ expectations to win a grant award. Your target is to achieve the satisfaction of granting agency. They expect the following important sub-sections in your background and significance portion:

Historical Research Support

State how your research question originated from all the background research and data you consulted. Tell the story of your journey, to the peer reviewers, starting from your studies and leading to your particular research topic (Jason, Karim & Robert, 2013). If your research is related to the spread of an epidemic, explain the history of that epidemic. Also, quote the research done so far on that particular epidemic in multiple short paragraphs. Another important thing is to avoid the provision of irrelevant information. An excellent test for screening the relevance of historical details is to observe how much it supplements your research goals.


For example, if your research outcome is proving a factor contributing to an infectious plague and you state three causes of that plague initially, but your research focuses on proving only one cause, you are perplexing your viewers. You are raising doubts in their minds as to why you are not further discussing the other two reasons and how will they influence your research outcome. This will only exhaust your reviewers and make your research proposal more controversial.  Avoid luring your reviewers to matters that raise suspicions and distractions.

Important Points:

You should write as if your reader knows nothing while keeping it precise. State the prominent facts of your research with supporting citations from previous literature. So, if you take the above example, the important points will be:

  • Illustrating previous research conducted on that infectious plague following proper rules of citation.
  • Bring into the spotlight, the main causative element of that infectious condition via the literature
  • Specify the literature presented so far on exposing that specific cause of the plague and its pathogenesis. You may not have enough knowledge about your research outcome, so, you should explain the liaison between the disease and causative element.
  • Describe the epidemiology of that disease-causing factor and how did you expose that cause. Your proposal will gain further strength if you illustrate your research outcome by pointing out its prevalence and incidence rates.
  • You should utilize approximately one page to cover this portion.
Significance of Your Research

Here you have to enlist the reasons why your research project is worthy enough to be awarded the grant finance (Michael, Anders, Philip & Mohit, 2007). Your proposal needs to be well justified, whether it is biochemical research or any sort of research conducted by surveys. Recently, the NIH has veered its emphasis to more on the influence that research makes on modern science rather than on the knowledge it provides. Hence, you should carefully choose and script the research plan if you especially are applying for the NIH grant award.

Important Points:

Points to take care of in this subsection are:

  • Highlight the significance of your project in the subheadings and explain them in a 4 to 5 lined paragraph.
  • Elaborate on how your research will aid in public health improvement and what level of impact it will have on science.
  • Convince your reviewers by clearly stating how your project will be extremely important for both the present and future of biomedical science.
  • Demonstrate the new environmental picture to your reviewers if your research is conducted.
  • You have to explain what new data you will be providing via conducting your research project.
  • You should be able to sway your peer reviewers by proving the worthiness of your project.
  • Illustrate how your research will fill the literature gaps and deficiencies mentioned in the previous segment.
  • Consume approximately one page for this segment.
Relating to Research Aims

This is the final wrapping of your background and significance section. Here, you should inter-relate your research background to your research objectives. The facts you provided in the historical research part should be mentioned here again but shortly. This is to seek reviewers’ attention logically back to the aims in the end. Remember that this section will especially focus on the respective Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for which you will be applying. Furthermore, never state more aims than your project is actually capable of in a given time limit and finance. It will certainly look remarkable from your point of view, but there is a limit to overstating, so, be well aware of what you declare (Kevin & Melissa, 2008).

Important Points:

Points to be noted in this subsection are:

  • Start this part by using a phrase like ‘this research is done precisely to’ and then start enumerating the aims with highlighted headings.
  • Use the terms like ‘to measure,’ ‘to assess,’ ‘to elaborate,’ ‘to figure out,’ ‘to quantify’ or ‘to calibrate’ while highlighting each aim. This will help the reviewers to navigate through the aims quickly.
  • Underneath these headings, write 4 to 5 lined interpretations.
  • Co-relate each aim with its background literature and the procedures you will conduct to achieve them.
  • Draw small figures to represent your preliminary data to fend off crowding in your text.
  • Utilize not more than two-thirds of a page.


Biased Evidence, a huge Misstep in your Grant Proposal

The level of objectivity has always been an issue for even expert grant writers. Roughly, one-third of the total grant applications get declined during the NIH peer-reviewing process due to biased pieces of evidence from previous research. One must be vigilant enough to avoid such an error. Some previously conducted research may support your research question while others may contradict it. You have to mention both types of historical research outcomes in your background.

Your proposal will only be approved when the evidence supporting your research outweigh the ones contradicting it. You have to mention all the scientific controversies relating to your research topic and specify the void in literature that will be filled by your project. If you ignore the opposing outcomes of the past, the reviewers will feel like either you lack knowledge or promote bias. Hence, opposing outcomes are as important as supporting outcomes.



The exclusive purpose of the background & significance section is to establish a strong footing for your research grant proposal. By avoiding the common errors, keeping the esthetical considerations, and scripting an organized content will make you prominent among all the other authors. The objectivity impresses peer reviewers, and the way you deal with the controversies differentiates you from other authors. Always remember to sketch your research background with the periodic referral of your project hypothesis (Nicholas, 2005). It is a real challenge for a grant writer to consult an enormous amount of literature and to present in limited pages. It requires determination and perseverance to accomplish this section. If your research topic is strong, then it won’t be a problem for you to script your research topic’s background. All you have to do is to follow the above-quoted instructions, and voilà! The foundation section of your grant writing is ready.


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