Keys to Writing a Successful
Grant Application (slide 1 of 37)
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
The Summer Institute on Social/Personality Psychology and Health
July 23, 2009
Overview (slide 2 of 37)
Before you write
o Background research
o Review criteria
o Multiple audiences
General grant writing tips
Specific Aims: The foundation
Tips for the other sections
Stage 1: Before You Write (slide 3 of 37)
Start with a novel idea
Do background research on mission of institute and specific
Stage 1: Before You Write (slide 4 of 37)
What research is funded by institute and program of interest?
CRISP (Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific
Stage 1: Before You Write (slide 5 of 37)
Get to know the review criteria*
o Significance: Scientific & practical importance; Impact
o Investigators: Expertise, training, accomplishments
o Innovation: Challenge/shift current research/practice
o Approach: Soundness of overall strategy, methods, analyses.
anticipate problems, address risks
o Environment: Institutional resources, equipment, access to special
*See Veronica Chollette’s presentation for more details.
Know your (multiple) audiences (slide 6 of 37)
o Who are they?
o Rosters of study section members are available online
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study
Know your (multiple) audiences (slide 7 of 37)
Advisory board/council members & program officials
Is work relevant to their institute and program’s mission?
Reaching the Reviewers (slide 8 of 37)
Will present overview of the application and discuss strengths and
weaknesses (also writes a critique)
Writes a critique and may add points not mentioned by primary
Reaching the Reviewers (slide 9 of 37)
Other Study Section Reviewers
o What will they read?
All study group members give your application a score
Reaching the Reviewers (slide 10 of 37)
Clarity, connection, and logic required to:
o Convince reviewers that work is exciting & important; method is
solid and free of major flaws; and you (and your research team) can
successfully carry out the work
Address each of review criteria in Specific Aims
Revisit and expand in full application for those who read complete
Advisory Board/Council (slide 11 of 37)
Will take into account scientific merit but also want to know that
your work fits with the mission of the institute and program.
General Advice about Grant Writing (slide 12 of 37)
Much of grant writing is simply good writing
Same principles as in all writing but more so for grants. Why?
Clarity (slide 13 of 37)
Use simple, direct language (avoid jargon)
o “People who have experienced discrimination”
Clarity (slide 14 of 37)
o This work will significantly move the field forward. [How?]
o This research is important for understanding how people make
health-related decisions. [because?]
Be concise (slide 15 of 37)
Omit needless words
Recent research has shown that the enhancement of mindfulness
through training facilitates a variety of well-being outcomes (e.g.,
Kabat-Zinn). [17 words + citation]
Enhancing mindfulness through training facilitates well-being
(e.g.., Kabat-Zinn, 1990). [6 words + citation]
Specific Aims (slide 16 of 37)
Aimed at primary and secondary reviewers, other study group
members, and advisory board/council members, program staff.
o Diverse audience
Needs to be clear, concise, and compelling!
NIH Instructions: Specific Aims (slide 17 of 37)
List the broad, long-term objectives and the goal of the specific
research proposed, for example, to test a stated hypothesis, create
a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing
paradigm or clinical practice, address a critical barrier to
progress in the field, or develop new technology. One page is
SPECIFIC AIMS: STEP BY STEP (slide 18 of 37)
WHAT IS KNOWN
GOAL/PURPOSE (Gap and Goal/Purpose are bidirectional to each other)
IMPACT/EXPECTED OUTCOMES (loops back to Goal/Purpose)
Specific Aims: I (slide 19 of 37)
What is this proposal about and what is its relevance for health
(cancer-related issues if NCI).
What do we know about this issue?
What is the important gap in knowledge that you need to fill?
Why do you need to fill this gap?
Why is it a significant problem worthy of funding to address? E.g., W hy is it a barrier to progress in the
Specific Aims: II (slide 20 of 37)
o Broader than specific goal of this project, where the work will take
o Connect to the gap you have identified.
o Shows program of research that ideally several future grant
What is the goal of this project: It’s to fill that gap you identified!
Connect to long-term goals.
Specific Aims: II (cont.) (slide 21 of 37)
o What is it? Why? (Is it derived from preliminary findings? Is it the best
fit given the literature?)
Justification for the Proposed Research: Why is it important to do
this particular research? How will it allow you to move to the
Specific Aims: III (slide 22 of 37)
Lay out each specific aim & hypothesis for each.
Should follow closely from your overarching hypothesis.
o Mechanism/process-oriented rather than descriptive
Specific Aims: IV (slide 23 of 37)
What will your work buy us?
o Expected outcomes
o What impact will your work have on the health-related problem and
Solicit Comments (slide 24 of 37)
[image] Two are men sitting in a room next to a computer desk. One man is in
bandages and the other holding a baseball bat. The man with the bat says “No, go
ahead and critique my idea. I’m always ok … after the initial reaction.”
Other sections (slide 25 of 37)
Use Specific Aims as foundation for rest of application
Background and Significance
Preliminary Studies/Progress Report
Research Design and Methods
Writing Timeline (slide 26 of 37)
Create a writing timeline.
Are you teaching? Editing? Mentoring grad students?
4-6 months (!!!)
[image] Man sitting at a desk with piles of paper on his desk and floor. Another
man’s head is poking out of the piles of paper. The man sitting says “I’ll finish all of
this today and then write the whole grant proposal tomorrow.”
Background & Significance (slide 27 of 37)
Significance: Expand on importance and impact mentioned in
o Why is work significant? Specific benefits of the knowledge to be
o How will these benefits
fit with NCI’s mission?
advance the field?
Primary reviewer can draw on this section.
Background & Significance (slide 28 of 37)
Critical evaluation of literature as it relates to proposed work and
gap to be filled.
Cite key articles, update
Discuss any relevant controversies and how project will resolve
Provides rationale for the gap(s) you have identified, leads into
your main hypothesis & preliminary studies
Preliminary Studies/Progress Report (slide 29 of 37)
Establish your (and your team’s) competence & expertise
Present your relevant data & explicitly state your conclusions
Clearly connect by stating relevance for the proposed work
Include figures (and/or tables)
Research Design & Methods (slide 30 of 37)
Describe how you will carry out the research
Must relate closely to your specific aims
Include details for specific methodology and why the chosen
method is the best to accomplish your goals.
Organize by aim.
Troubleshoot: How will you avoid or handle potential problems?
Breakdown the Task (slide 31 of 37)
Research Design & Methods
o Specific Aim 1
Anticipated problems/alternative strategies
Example: How will we handle? (slide 32 of 37)
Managing attrition & retention
Problem: Attrition at Time 2 and Time 3 because
o may not be able to recontact
o may choose not to continue
o may get divorced
Compensate & increase $
Contact info for 3 friends or relatives
Give PI contact info
Research Design & Methods (slide 33 of 37)
Statistical strategy (justify use of specific
analytic techniques, power analysis)
Remember to include timetable for project
Key point: Justify everything!
Solicit colleagues’ comments (slide 34 of 37)
Early: Specific Aims
Later: Full proposal
Anticipate reviewers’ comments
Only 2 chances
Be Correct (in content & details) (slide 35 of 37)
Instructions (formatting, page limits, font, margins)
Sections in prescribed order
Proofread – eliminate typos, grammatical errors, etc.
Proofread again…and again
[image] Front of building with a sign that says “Smith Academy, A tradition of
excellense” courtesy of www.cartoonstock.com
Grant Writing Tip Sheets/Guidebooks (slide 36 of 37)
NIH Office of Extramural Research:
Grant Writers’ Seminars and Workshops LLC (but $$$)
(slide 37 of 37)
[image] A man is sitting with a psychic, the psychic says “You have a very long
genius grant line”. The man thinks “Yes, I knew this was the year”