Six golden rules to write a successful grant application

Updated: Apr 10

Obviously, there is never any guarantee that your application will be successful for the simple fact that you don't know what kind of arrow your competitors have in their quivers.

However, there are a few basic rules to follow to make sure your application is not rejected outright.

Rule 1: Make sure you meet the criteria

Before you even start writing, the golden rule is:

Make sure you (or your client) meet the criteria!

There is no point in putting a lot of effort into writing a beautifully crafted text if the application is doomed from the start because you are not in the business for long enough or you don't turn over enough money to be eligible for this or that particular funding scheme.

Taking the time to read the stipulations will pay off.

Rule 2 : Start as early as possible

The second golden rule is:

Start as early as possible!

Plan the process ahead in such a way that even with a major computer crash you can still submit your form a day early.

If you have to deal with multiple parties in a consortium it is important to set up a time frame as to when the parties have to provide their input.

Again, allowing for unforeseeable circumstances the time frame has to be generous enough for all parties to draw up their contributions but strict enough to leave enough time for when you are reaching the deadline.

Having to burn the midnight oil in order to submit the application 5 minutes before deadline invariably results in errors which make your text seem unprofessional (and will make you age before your time).

Rule 3: Do not do it alone!

1. No matter how carefully you re-read your magnum opus you WILL miss errors. 

A spellchecker is fine and dandy but does not necessarily spot wrong words; e.g. it will not differentiate between ‘to’, ‘two’, and ‘too’. 

The better spellcheckers may be able to make an educated guess about what it is you might want to say and mark something as wrong or questionable, but they might still misread the situation, so relying on a spellchecker alone is not a good strategy.

2. Have someone (preferably an non- subject matter expert) check your argumentation.

Your reasoning why your project should receive funding might seem compelling enough to you but you are not the benchmark. 

Your reasoning has to be perceived as compelling by those who assess your application and they are unlikely to be experts too.

Rule 4: Leave no point unaddressed

It might not seem overly relevant to you (especially because you fit all the other criteria so perfectly) but a poorly addressed point or even an unaddressed one is an exclusion criterion.

So, the fourth golden rule is:

Leave no point unaddressed!

Your idea may be most worthy and deserving of generous funding — but if you fail to address each and every point meticulously someone else’s project will get funded. 

Yours won’t.

Rule 5: Keep it simple

As said above the assessors are unlikely to be experts.

Don't use jargon they might not be familiar with and if you do have to use technical terms yo need to explain them.

Bloody stupid acronyms (BSAs) have to be explained at least once in the text.

The time they first appear and, possibly, again a few paragraphs down because the assessors have more than one application to read and a similar combination of capital letters might have denoted something quite different in the text they've been reading five minutes ago.

If the application form in question contains different sections it is not unwise to explain the terminology again in each section because the different sections might be assessed by different people.

Keep it simple!

Use simple language.

You may think you are Marcel Proust reincarnate but even if you are that won't help you.

As a matter of fact, the people assessing your application have a large pile of applications to go through and the less effort it takes them to digest your outpourings the better for you.

So, keep your sentences short.

Rule 6: Make a compelling case

This entails explaining WHY the research project should be funded NOW, i.e. because there will be no better time for this project than now, but why should that be the case? 

What are the time-dependant factors which make this time the right time?

In one word, make a compelling case!
Another aspect is that your project needs to appear reasonable in terms of resources.

Be careful about the resources you factor into the project.

Review panels tend to spot weakly justified expenses or 'Full time equivalents' (FTEs) very quickly.

When writing this section the balance between clarity and depth is paramount.

The reader needs to see that the project has been designed properly but your text must not get bogged down in too much detail.

To sum it all up, you need to tell a story, a story that grabs and holds the attention of the reader. All that without being flashy. Piece of cake... ;-)