Seven insider tips to writing the perfect funding proposal

13 February 2017

It’s grant writing season, with several major NHMRC and ARC applications due over the next few months. 

To help get you through, the University of Sydney's Research Portfolio shares their top tips to help researchers ace their funding proposal. While the content of applications will vary from one discipline to another, competitive funding proposals have a number of things in common. 

Gather knowledge 

Before putting pen to paper, make sure you read all the documentation, including the funding rules, peer review guidelines and instructions to applicants. Consider the scheme’s objectives and the selection criteria and whether you can build a strong case.

You might also find it helpful to talk to colleagues who have received funding in your proposed scheme before. Ask around in your School or Faculty, and remember, a high-quality application will go through multiple drafting cycles, with feedback from your peers, mentors, Faculty research support staff and the Research Portfolio, so start as early as possible.

Decide on your angle

To capture your assessors’ interest, start your application with why your project is important and what problems it will solve. Detail how the outcomes will affect change and benefit the community: Will the project save lives or improve wellbeing? Will it pave the way for new technologies or creative engagements? Will it help with global issues such as climate change, managing an ageing population, or bring about major savings for governments or industry sectors?

Write for an intelligent, but non-expert audience

Depending on the scheme, some (or all) of your assessors will not be experts in your field. To test-drive your proposal and ideas, why not write your application with a scholarly friend from another discipline in mind, then send your draft application to them for feedback?

Remember to minimise jargon and acronyms, and if you do use them, always define what they mean.

Strike the right tone

Your tone should be confident and authoritative. Use phrases such as “I will”, “I plan to”, “My work has enabled”, “There is evidence that compound X is a strong candidate for”, ”My new interpretation of Weber's philosophy is”, “I was an invited speaker at...”

Avoid weaker phrases such as “I hope to”, “My work has contributed to”, “I believe that”, “I have spoken at one conference on…”

Build a strong case for feasibility

Include efficacy and cost-effectiveness of your proposal. If appropriate, build an outstanding team with breadth and depth – to cover every aspect of the project – and describe your own expert background and trajectory. If you use equipment in your work, detail the high-quality facilities you have access to. Outline contingency plans where needed and always support any statements you make with evidence or theoretical justification.

Justify your budget

You may need to consider personnel costs, fees to use research facilities and indirect costs. Describe each item thoroughly, including how it will be used in the project and how it contributes to the project outcomes. For example: “A senior postdoc with four years’ experience in the field with A skill set for activity X to achieve outcome Y”. Rather than, “Postdoc 0.5 FTE to do field work”. Or, "Travel expenses to attend X high-profile conference in the field, which will lead to a publication (journal paper or monograph)". Rather than, "Travel expenses".

Ask for help

Research support staff in your Faculty and the University's Research Portfolio offer personalised grant writing assistance and strategic career advice to Sydney researchers.

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