Common Errors in Budget Section of a Grant Application & How to Correct Them



Is the major section of a research grant application. Every research idea needs strong financial support to be able to reach its desired aims. This financial grant can only be availed if you provide a competitive grant application with an excellent budget plan. It is, therefore, essential to have a general idea about research resources when planning out your finance. The point is that there is no room for any sort of error in the budget section as it concerns funding agencies the most. This article will brief and prepare you for “Grant Proposal Budget” as well as the common errors that you need to avoid in this section.


Reasons for Planning Your Budget Beforehand

Budget planning clears out all the questions related to the funds that are required by your research project. Therefore, the major purposes of planning your budget are:

  • To have a definite idea about the pathway of finance
  • To calculate the amount of financial aid that is needed for your research conduction
  • To estimate the time and resources for your research project
  • To specify the usage of funds and what procedures are they consumed (Al-Riyami, 2008)
  • To confirm whether your budget falls under modular or a detailed-design budget category


Common Errors Observed in the Budget Section

As said earlier, budget planning has no room for mistakes. It should be clear and concise with all the necessary details required by your respective funding agency. Many grant applications face disapproval due to the errors in the budget section. The most frequent errors observed by the reviewers are:


Selecting the Wrong Type of Budget Form

Many of the grant applicants choose the budget type that does not match their research expenditure. These research writers select the budget form without having any idea about the two types. Some applicants fill out the short budget form when their research requires a detailed-budget form while the others do and vice versa. This act of wrong selection portrays your lack of knowledge about the budgeting process. The grant reviewers classify this error as carelessness on the grant writer’s part and immediately decline the application.

Corrections Needed

Accepting a brilliant research proposal with a budget section that misfits its research finance is just like buying an exquisite item without counting the money you paid for it. Hence, the funding agencies always give importance to the budget information provided for the research conduction before approving any grant proposal. Several points to remember before choosing the type of budget form for the budget section are:

There are two types of budget forms

  • One is called the Modular budget form, while the other is the Detailed-budget form.
  • Modular budget forms are short budget forms with total annual direct costs lesser than or equal to $250,000.
  • Detailed-budget forms are chosen for budgets larger than the modular budget range.
  • Most of the independent researchers have a modular-type budget as their total annual direct costs are usually lesser than $250,000.


Too Low or Too High a Budget

The range of budget is yet another issue to be wary of. Many applications submitted to the NIH contain either too low or too high a budget. These budgets are considered artificial for research conduction. Planning a lesser budget will make the reviewers think that you are afraid of being rejected if you provide a high expense budget. Likewise, providing a gigantic budget plan will portray that you are demanding money for your interest rather than for the research itself. Both of them negatively impact your grant proposal.

Corrections Needed

As everyone knows that equilibrium is the key to every wonderful outcome. If you want to get your budget section approved, staying in balance is the answer. Guidelines for rectification of such a gross mistake are:

  • Neither under-estimate nor over-estimate the funding expenses. (Georgia, Elena, Tiago & Neil, 2016)
  • Always limit your finance in between the maximum and the minimum range set by your funding agency.
  • If the funding agency has not mentioned any budget range, consult the NIH budget page on their website or their help-desk person.
  • Mention all the direct costs and calculate the total.
  • Your indirect costs should not be exceeding the direct costs.
  • Choose those research procedures and techniques that are within the range of budget finance offered by your funding agency.


Lack of Budget Justification

There are several grant proposals with budgets scripted without appropriate cost justifications. There are no justified roles of items under direct and indirect costs. How can one justify the costs in front of reviewers when there are no roles of items provided by the writer? Such budgets with no statements of purpose under every item are considered blunt and unjustified. The funding agencies will never approve of such expenses. It is their money, and they need a list that can precisely enlighten them about every necessary expense with their respective names.

Corrections Needed

Your budget can strongly improve the grant review process of your research application if it is justified properly (Satish, 2017). Hence the important points to correctly justify your budget section are:

  • Give two headings saying ‘direct costs’ and ‘indirect costs.’
  • Enlist the items and cost under their respective headings.
  • Justify the cost of each item by stating its role in your research process.


Missing Out the Separate Costs

A budget section not only requires the costs but also the names of the items for which the money is needed. Many of the grant proposals fail to enlist the items in the budget section. Consequently, the reviewers become confused with the costs provided for the financing of the research project. The budget plan will become ambiguous for the reviewing panel. They will feel that you are either hiding the actual items from the budget, or you do not know how to specify the budget items precisely.

Corrections Needed

  • Write two headings saying ‘direct costs’ and ‘indirect costs.’
  • Then provide the subheadings, namely personnel involved, repeating expenses per annum, non-repeating costs, and lastly, the traveling costs.
  • Mention that personnel of your team that has great expertise as they are highly preferred by the funding agencies. (Arthurs, 2014)
  • Enlist the name of every item and its respective cost under each subheading.
  • Enlist all the overhead charges paid to your research institute separately under the indirect costs heading.
Unpredictable Charges

Whenever you select a research method for your project, you can estimate the unpredictable expenses that can occur in tandem with the research technique. Many grant proposals lack the flexibility for such unpredictable charges. Their chosen techniques are difficult to carry out. This results in the wastage of many items that are in limited quantity in the budget plan. The reviewers are skilled enough to detect this deficiency of unpredictable expenses. This makes your budget plan weak in their eyes. Therefore, such applicants are declined and asked for resubmission by the panel of grant reviewers.

Corrections Needed

Pointing out the extra charges requires a lot of experience and practice. To rectify such type of error, you need to follow these guidelines:

  • For new investigators, the unpredictable charges are greater than a senior investigator.
  • Easy techniques have fewer chances of unwanted expenses during the research.
  • Consult the unpredictable expenses specified in the budget plan of previously successful applicants and categorize them according to their research methods.
  • Get a review of the budget expenses from trusted senior colleagues and mentors.
Complex Budgeting

Another big mistake in the budget section is opting for a complex budget plan. This consists of extensive lists with extensive justifications for every item. Such type of complicated facts and figures for the budget will further complicate the minds of reviewers who have tons of applications to review in a very short time. It takes all their energy to understand just one budget plan. It can make them irritable. They will be distracted by the complexities of your statements. Hence, the real purpose of the budget is lost in the midst. These applicants are ultimately requested for resubmission while pointing out the error of a complex budget plan.

Corrections Needed

Those who are asked for resubmission can rectify this error by following the below-mentioned instructions:

  • Always write short headings and subheadings.
  • Draw a simple table enumerating the necessary items in the first column with their corresponding costs in the next column.
  • Justify the role of each item in a single short sentence in the third column.
  • Avoid long paragraphing and limited spacing.
  • Information should be to the point.
Budget Defying the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)

Then there are those applications that do not fulfill the budget criteria set by their respective FOAs. Every funding agency usually has its specified budget criteria, which are specified in their advertising announcement. Those applications with budget duration different from that provided by the funding agency are flatly rejected. Also, if your budget plan exceeds the costs that your funding agency is providing, your proposal will be declined.

Corrections Needed

The only way to rectify such errors is to read the instructions specified by your FOA carefully. Then plan your budget accordingly. Make sure that your budget duration and direct expenses are within the said limit of your FOA.


Missing the Pre-Approval from National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The modular-type budget plans are comparatively easy to handle than the detailed type. The detailed budget plan requires approval from the NIH before submission of the grant proposal. Many new investigators do not know the procedure for a detailed budget. Hence, they directly submit their budget plan along with the application without any approval from the NIH. This causes the initial rejection of your proposal.

Corrections Needed

Read the guidelines given in the detailed-budget plan page of the NIH’s website. The procedure to gain the pre-approval of your budget is also specified in it. All you have to do is to carefully read the instructions and act accordingly. If you have any queries relating to it, you can ask the NIH’s help desk.

Typing and Calculation Mistakes

There are many research proposals of the new investigators that have mistakes in calculations and typing. They give a bad impression of your mathematical skills and negatively impact your application. These applications are also declined and asked for resubmission after reviewing.

Corrections Needed

The only way to rectify this error is to get your budget plan reviewed multiple times by your seniors. Another tip is to practice budget-writing continuously.



The above-mentioned errors are the most frequent ones. You can avoid or rectify the mistakes in your budget plan by simply following the instructions provided in this article. Budget planning is not difficult; it just needs fair practice and evaluation on your part. With a little help from your senior mentors and this article, you can easily manage the budget section of your grant application.


  1. Al-Riyami, A. (2008, April). How to Prepare a Research Proposal. Oman Medical Journal23(2), 66–69.
  2. Hardavella, G., Jacinto, T., Karampini, E. & Saad, N. J. (2016, March). Doing Science: How to Submit a Successful Funding Application. Breathe (Sheffield, England)12(1), 73–77.
  3. Patil, S.G. (2017, October). How To Plan And Write A Budget For Research Grant Proposal? Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 10(2), 1-4.
  4. Arthurs, O.J. (2014, November). Think it Through First: Questions to Consider in Writing a Successful Grant Application. Pediatric Radiology44(12), 1507–1511.
  5. Burkhardt, J., Carlson, J.N., Gottlieb, M., King, A.M., Sangil Lee, S., Santen, S.A., & Wong, A.H. (2018, November 19) Show Me the Money: Successfully Obtaining Grant Funding in Medical Education. West J Emerg Med, 20(1), 71-77.–77. 10.5811/westjem.2018.10.41269
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