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You have identified a grant mechanism that you want to apply for...

Scroll down for tips on how to prepare a competitive application

When you are writing a grant proposal, your only audience is the reviewers - which is usually 3 people

Reviewers decide which grants get funded.  Program officers make the funding decisions, but they can only select among the proposals that reviewers like and rate highly.

For each grant, you need to understand what the review process is like, who the reviewers are, and how they are going to be judging your proposal.

It is very important that you talk to the program officer at the agency.

Email the officer a 1 page summary of your proposal (or specific aims page) for them to read before you talk with them. Email the program officer and ask for a time when you can call them to discuss your proposal.  

Things to ask the program officer (take notes on her answers)

- Does our project sound like a good fit for your program?

- Do you see anything problematic?

- Can you suggest anything that might make it more competitive?

- What are some common mistakes that PIs make that make their   

      proposals less competitive for this program?

You need to find out how the proposals will be reviewed so that you can know the audience you are writing for. 

 - Will it be a general review where all types proposals are grouped

      together and reviewed by a diverse panel?

 - Will it be a broad disciplinary review?  (biology proposals reviwed by

     biologists, physics proposals reviewed by physicists, etc) or a narrow

     disciplinary review? (proposals reviewed by experts in the specific

     sub-discipline of the proposal).

The more general the expertise of the reviewers, the more you will have to work to make your application accessible to a broad audience.

Before you submit your application, make sure that it is compliant with the requirements of the program

Carefully read the RFP or program announcement and make yourself a checklist of the requirements, especially:

   - budget limits and specific costs that are unallowable

   - required supplementary documentation, eg mentoring

      plans (post-doc or undergraduate), resource sharing plans,

      institutional letters of commitment, etc.

   - font requirements, and margin/page limits

The budget and budget justification are some of the most important parts of your proposal, be sure that you spend enough time developing them.

For a program grant, many reviewers use the budget justification like a summary of the program.

By showing what you plan to spend money on, the budget and justification kind of "map out" your project.

  - Make sure that the budget and justification match what is in

     your project description

         - make sure that you show funds budgeted to support all of the proposed


           - make sure that everything you budget funds for is explained in the project


  - Write the budget and justification with the reviewers in mind.

     The budget needs to meet their expectations for how the project

     can best be implemented and what program funds should


  - Don't worry too much about whether the budget will work for

      implementation.  It is almost always possible to revise the budget once

      the grant gets awarded.

Search the web to find examples of agency-specific forms or mechanism- specific forms.


Research universities typically provide templates for their faculty. Your can find and make use of these resources.

For example, for NSF's data management plan requirement, a Google search for "data management plan" (in quotes) returns the University of Michigan's library website with a whole web page devoted to examples and templates for data management plans.

Check it out:   UM nsf-data-management-plans


The most important thing is to clearly explain WHY your project is important. Incorporate that into every part of the application.

Strong applications tell how the project:

    - Fills in a gap in knowledge (research)

    - Solves a pressing problem (programs)

    - Meets the objectives of the funder

          (research and program grants)

Start both the summary and objectives

     section with the above information

Weak applications tell how the project:

    - "increases our understanding"

    - "addresses an interesting problem"

It is very important that your proposal include a timeline for implementation

A timeline shows the reviewers that you have thought carefully about the project and have a realistic sense of how long it will take to complete the experiments or implement the various parts of the program.

A timeline also provides another sumary of the project that helps reviewers understand how the different parts fit together.

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