Grant Writing

Grant writing is an essential part of any research career, as most researchers depend on “soft money” to fund their projects and often salaries as well.  Writing grants to obtain funding can be an intimidating task for a beginning researcher, but there are many resources available to help you along the way, including the advice of senior colleagues and a number of websites and articles listed below.

Tips for grant writing:

Preparation Phase: 
1) Start early if possible, preferably 6 months before the due date (at least putting together the team of researchers, collecting their CVs, choosing people for letters of support)

2) Read the Request for Applications (RFA) very closely before starting to make sure you are eligible to apply, and contact the grant administrators if you aren’t sure.  Also review the RFA half-way through and just before you submit the grant to make sure you have addressed all the issues.

3) Request a 15 minute phone call with one of the contact individuals listed on the RFA, at their convenience of course, to discuss your ideas and make sure they fit the purpose of the RFA.  They may agree to read your aims and abstract when they are drafted and offer suggestions.

4) Assemble a team of researchers that is multidisciplinary and without any holes in expertise (for example, if you lack biostatistics experience, make sure that another member of the research team is an experienced biostatistician). Then trumpet all of their strengths in your grant proposal -- this is not the time to be modest!

Writing the Grant: 
1) When you start writing the grant, try to set aside protected blocks of at least 4 hours of time when no one will interrupt you, at whatever time of day you write best.

2) Make sure each section of the grant is well-written -- not just the parts in which you’re interested -- because various reviewers may have “pet sections” that they scrutinize closely.  Remember though: EVERYONE reads the abstract, so it must be great!

3) The abstract should consist mostly of the Design/Methods section and be very specific, including all of the strengths of the study.

4) The budget justification section is often unlimited in pages, so you can also use this section to really tout your research team, research center, study design, etc.

5) You must include a section acknowledging potential limitations of your study. The best way to do this is to present the potential problem, then turn it around into a strength if possible.  You can also present fall-back strategies and justify these with published studies.

6) The primary NIH review criteria are significance of the work , the approach , innovation , the investigator (and colleagues), and the environment (in which the study will be conducted).  The first two are the science behind the grant, and the last two can be optimized by choosing a great group of investigators from well-known institutions.  The tough one is innovation, but it’s very important so don’t neglect it in your proposal.

Electronic Resources:

Identifying Funding Sources   The Stanford Research Management Group Funding Opportunities webpage includes links to databases of available grants and informational resources to assist with the grant-writing process.  The webpage includes the following sections:

  • Calendar of Funding Opportunities includes internal funding possibilities and a comprehensive, alphabetical list of external funding sources.
  • Searchable Funding Databases includes the Community of Science Database and the Illinois Researcher Information Service (IRIS).
  • Junior and New Faculty Resources contains resources specific to investigators early in their careers.
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships offers a complete list of available fellowship awards and help with writing the applications.   For those who wish to go straight to NIH grant applications, this webpage is the guide to the NIH Office of Extramural Research .  It includes active Requests for Applications, submission deadlines, links to application forms, and information on how to submit grant applications.   This webpage is maintained by the journal Science , and is an especially good resource for training and early faculty development funding opportunities, as well as international awards.

Preparing and Submitting a Grant Application The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH web tutorial entitled How to Write a Grant Application gives detailed instructions for every step of NIH grant writing, from developing your idea to submitting the grant and beyond. at Stanford offers electronic applications to more than 1,000 federal grant-making programs, assisted by a Stanford institutional representative. This website is targeted toward principal investigators, but gives a good picture of the process of grant submission at Stanford and beyond.   Stanford has also developed an online curriculum and certification process called the Cardinal Curriculum for research administrators that explains the process of grant proposals, budget-making, and a tutorial on using the electronic submission system

Document Resources:

Identifying Funding Sources

Lane Library’s Resource Guide to Funding Websites

Preparing and Submitting a Grant Application

Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants 
Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide for Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty, Chapter 9: Getting Funded, Howard Hughes Medical Institute