What Is a Grant Application?

A grant application is a justified document-of-need submitted to government/private institutions, corporations, foundations, or trusts for research funding. The grant, in the form of money, salaries, expenses, travel allowances, technical facilitation, and equipment – supports the pool of emerging investigators or veteran biomedical scientists.

Research funding serves as oxygen for any research project. Most of the researchers receive no guidance on writing a grant application. With rising numbers of proposals to review, minute differences among proposals matter more than ever. The grant application procedure has become acutely detail-oriented. Nowadays, great research alone cannot make up for an average grant writing technique, so, this article will brainstorm you for scripting a winning grant application.


Preliminary Factors Leading to a Winning Grant Application
· Idea

A maverick idea leads to a research grant award. However, if you have a truly good research topic, you might be disappointed to know that you are not the first one to have it. It is essential to know how much has previously been published on that idea and what the quality of that material is.

· Questioning Your Idea

Now you need to clearly define the problems relating to your addressed idea and eventually codify a novel research question that should drive itself to a testable hypothesis and have the potential to provide results that have an impact on science and, hence, on your reviewers.

· Matching Funding Opportunity

It is crucial that the topic of research is matched with the mission of your funding agency and the guidelines mentioned in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

In a study, Rajiv, Glenn, & Ravindra (2006) reviewed 41 grants and found that 76% of proposals were unqualified to be reviewed because the research did not match the priority goals specified by the Request for Proposals.

To ease this, you can use the Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORTER) to help determine where your research fits best. Also, encircle the due date, mentioned on your FOA, on the calendar to complete your grant application well before the deadline as the time for writing a proposal ranges from 3 months to 1 year (Falk, 2006)

· Making a Checklist

Make a checklist of fundamental documents needed along with your application, and who will help you in making those. Here is how you can check the personnel responsible for the forms:

Credential(s)Personnel Responsible
Personal Approval FormSponsored Research Office
Abstract PageInvestigator
Project NarrativeInvestigator
BudgetSponsored Research Office
Budget JustificationInvestigator
Resource PageInvestigator
· Reading the National Institutes of Health (NIH) instruction booklet

We recommend reading and following the rules scripted in the instructions booklet of NIH, no matter how minuscule the details may be, particularly about page limits, font sizes, and margins justification. Many proposals are denied due to formatting errors. So, a well-formatted application is a foundation of a winning application. Some further instructions to follow are:

  • Headers & footers are not needed in your writing as NIH Systems will automatically add them upon submission.
  • Write to the point headings, sub-headings, and short paragraphs to be specific without any repetition.
  • Highlight your dominant grant sections and use bullets or numbered lists. Also, indents and bolding text will focus on key concepts and allow reviewers to fetch information quickly.


Now You Start Writing

You’ve researched your idea and understood the application pre-requisites, now it’s time to write.

· Aims & Hypothesis Section

A grant application begins with the enumeration of project aims (objectives) with each aim leading to a specific hypothesis, i.e., each aim should be followed by the rationale for performing the aim and conclude with the hypothesis-driven from that aim (Kevin & Melissa, 2007). Use words such as ‘to measure,’ ‘to calibrate,’ ‘to correlate’ or ‘to achieve’ etc., to state precisely the certain hypothesis that will be tested. Limit the aims to 4 or fewer, which are enough to cover 1-page length. Never give more aims than can truly be reached during your suggested project period.

· Background & Significance Section

This section must manifest an in-depth knowledge of the currently available data in the literature that is relevant to the project. The length of this section should precisely be 1-2 pages (s). Here, highlight the gap(s) in the literature to be filled and how the filling of this void will improve health or erase health discrepancies. If no systematic review or meta-analysis was done on the topic, experts suggest you do one (Michael, Anders, Philip, & Mohit, 2017). Consider adding a ‘Potential Impacts’ subheading and framing it with your funding agency’s agenda. This will prompt reviewers’ full attention to this benchmark and will convince the granting agencies that your proposal is worth their money.

· Innovation Section

Here you present the novelty of your research (Ross et al., 2015), e.g., by:

  • Working on a population that has not been adequately reached by evidence-based research
  • Implementing a new method of adapting an intervention
  • applying a particular scientific method that may be overlooked in previous research (e.g., systems science, social network analysis)
  • Using a theory or framework that is highly generalized in the majority of fields but neglected in a particular health field addressed in your application
  • Using technology in a new way or with a new population
· Approach Section

This is the core section of your application and will take up to 9-10 pages. It is built on the clearly integrated aims of your project in a way that assures the reviewers of their relevance and potential impacts. The Approach section includes mainly:

  • Pilot data (relevant to your research to show its feasibility)
  • Stipulating well-written biographical sketches (sketches) to enhance your chances for success. SciENcv, an electronic system supporting multiple research agencies, will help you develop your biosketch and automatically format it according to the NIH requirements.
  • An overview of the research design
  • Study designs with thorough analysis to score your mentioned aims by identifying clearly the partners you are working with, describing the roles and responsibilities of the various parties, and including letters of support from the partners outlining their commitments to the project
  • Setup and procedures for recruitment and sampling
  • The justification that the research environment is conducive to your research
  • The ‘Limitations’ subsection, limited to ½ of a page, demonstrates potential problems and how they can be resolved, as well as addresses possible biases and their solutions
  • ‘Conclusion’ is named subheading of the last paragraph for the recollection of the importance of your project and how it will impact public health

It is conducive to using charts, graphs, or tables to augment the presentation of this section. In a study of the proposal (Inouye & Fiellin, 2005) submitted to the NIH, every grant had at least one error/mistake in the ‘Methods’ section with frequent problems in:

  • Study Sample – example: sample is flawed, sample poorly described)
  • Outcomes – example: concerns about blinding, outcome measures not adequately described)
  • Data Analysis – example: inadequate control for confounders, insufficient description of analytical approach)
·  Appendix Section

For the NIH, the appendices are widely limited to surveys, questionnaires, or other data collection instruments. Your grant application should stand solo. Never assume that assigned reviewers will read your appendix materials and never include critical correlates of your research in the appendices. This may cause the grant to be declined for not abiding by the required format.

· Executive Summary (Abstract) Page

The purpose of the abstract is to outline every key element of the proposed project in a nutshell, in terminology, that non-scientific viewer can comprehend easily. It will be viewable to the public on RePORTER if the application is funded, so limit its length to 30 lines or less.

The abstract is the first page that a reviewer reads, which gives your leading impression, so it is scripted last, i.e., after fully designing your application. Typically only two or three reviewers will go through the entire proposal. Most reviewers will rely on the abstract (Georges & Beth, 2003).

This section includes:

  • a brief background of the project related to your specific research question
  • specific aims, objectives & hypotheses
  • the usefulness of the proposed research and its relevance to clinical care or public health
  • the novel features and originality of the project
  • the study designs to be used
  • the anticipated outcomes
· Project Narrative Note

It is a 2-3 lined note depiction of how your results will influence other research areas, methods or policies to revamp the healthcare system, i.e., its relevance to public health. It should have simple language well comprehended by a lay audience. The Project Narrative note is made public for all awarded grants in RePORTER, appearing at the end of the project abstract.

· Budget Form

The funding application forms package linked with most NIH funding announcements includes two optional budget forms called R&R (detailed) Budget Form and PHS 398 (Modular) Budget Form. To decide whether to use a detailed or modular budget for your NIH application, see their webpage.

In the Budget form, you provide a breakdown of your research budget item-wise and year-wise, with cost calculation, and then justify each of them in the same sequence. Ensure that costs are reasonable, allowable, and related to your funding agency’s proposal so that the budget appears pragmatic. A well-justified budget boosts up the evaluation process of your research proposal by the reviewers and the funding body. (Satish, 2017)

· Cover Letter

Last but not the least, when you submit your grant application, provide a cover letter stipulating the program announcement, the study section is requested, and the specific type of expertise needed to review your project application.


Your Pioneer Application is Ready

That’s it for your grant application. It is now ready. All you now have to do is to think like a reviewer and follow the tips given in this article, and you are good to go for an impressive grant application with high chance of acceptance.


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