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How to Write a Grant Proposal?

October 6, 2021

Grants are an invaluable source of money that keeps the research going. The competition can be fierce. That’s why your institution must write a grant proposal that stands out from the pack while clearly expressing the purpose and merit of your research.

Here, we outline a more effective way to approach your grant proposal writing. Consider the following as you formulate your next proposal to maximize its potential.

It Begins With an Idea

It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating, even for experts. When writing a proposal, it’s paramount that you thoroughly understand the subject matter that you’re researching, what questions you’re aiming to answer, and what problems you’re hoping to solve. This is important because it will allow you to fully communicate and clarify the idea you’re exploring with your research, and why the proposal reviewers should care.

What Is Your Focus?

One roadblock a lot of grant proposals face is overly broad areas of focus. Though the totality of science is an overarching web of interconnected facts, data, and findings, most research is conducted in testing a very small and particular piece of that web. It's simpler and more reliable to reach conclusions when the question you're trying to answer is narrow in scope and application.

A good focus is better formatted as something like, "effects of X on Y," and not like, "effects of X on Y, and also how Z changes things." Though it may seem like a good idea to double-dip and answer two questions with one study, these questions will result in two independent variables in one study, which distorts the results. Here’s an example: 

  • Good: "Effects of mineral content in water supplies of Midwestern communities."
  • Too broad: "Effects of mineral content in water supplies of Midwestern communities, and also, how diet interacts with these results."

The second example, while still asking valid questions, is too broad for one study, and should ultimately be split into two separate studies. A narrower focus not only makes for clearer science but is also more attractive to potential sponsors.

What Are Your Needs?

To state the obvious, when you create a grant proposal, you're asking for money. Since you're hoping these organizations will trust your institution enough to sponsor your research, it's important to be specific about the amounts you need and where you intend for that money to go. Follow the sponsor’s guidelines for budget preparation carefully. A good eRA software like Kuali Research can help keep all relevant information in one spot, ready for quick assembly for items like budgets and more. This will prove to potential sponsors that you know what you're doing.

What Are Your Research Methods?

Sponsoring organizations need your transparency. You must outline your research methodology because this allows potential sponsors to verify if your methods are scientifically sound. This also allows the sponsor to check if any part of the methodology runs counter to any part of their organizational code of ethics, or if any other conflict of interest is present.

Be Detail-Oriented

Perhaps the most effective way to think about a grant proposal is to compare it to a job application. In much the same way, you need to explain to someone else — in clear, memorable, and concise terms — why you (or your institution) are the correct choice. In both cases, a one-size-fits-all document is not going to get the job done.

Foundations and government agencies each have their own particular needs and requests when it comes to the proposals they receive, and failure to abide by these requests will cause your proposal to be returned without review. Most federal sponsors have rigid requirements about everything from which forms should be used and what sections should be included, to font size, margin size, and line-spacing permitted. 

Establish Your Credibility

Much like a resume, you'll want to put your best foot forward. Be sure to reference successes with previous projects in such a way that highlights your ability to accomplish the project being addressed by your proposal. Make certain that the presentation of your planned research shows that you have thought through everything thoroughly and that you understand the value and implications your research might have.

Center on Solutions

Instead of overly centering on the problem your research hopes to solve, center your proposal on the solutions your research will bring. Propose specific, actionable solutions to the problems being addressed, and intelligently make the connections between your research and improving the world. If you do this, grant reviewers are more likely to have positive feelings associated with your proposal, and more likely to offer a grant.

How to write a grant proposal

Write to an Academic Audience

Grant reviewers comb through technical and scientific material for a living, so it's safe to assume that they are a smart crowd. With that in mind, know your audience when you write a grant proposal. Though it's important to be clear and concise, it's possible to skew too far in the other direction — "dumbing down" the material to the point that it either becomes misleading or unprofessional.

Be sure to heavily proofread your proposals, cite your sources, and follow your potential sponsor's preferred style guide. Don’t forget to ensure that the formatting and academic rigor are reflective of something you would hand in to a harsh-grading professor who you want to impress.

Revise Grant Proposals That Have Been Rejected

If a grant proposal of yours is rejected, that doesn't mean the research project is doomed. By and large, proposals often get rejected on their first submission. When it comes to larger funders, the success rate of a proposal is only around 20%. If yours is rejected and you hope to try again, pay attention to the notes that come back. What aspects of your proposal did reviewers take issue with? What parts of it need improvement? Take notice of why your proposal was rejected, and make revisions based on the notes you received in future drafts.

Don't Quit

As stated above, many grant proposals are rejected at least once. It's nothing personal against you. And if you resolve to be transparent with potential sponsors and carefully take their notes into account, every draft will get you closer and closer to one that's awarded the grant.

Kuali Can Help

On a variety of axes, Kuali Research can assist you to create the best grant proposal possible.

GrantForward Integration

Search for funding opportunities and import their details into the Kuali proposal.

Proposal and Budget Development

Simplify your online proposal development with automated routing and approval workflows.


Gather info for the data analysis or to populate forms. This can be used to trigger conditional workflows.

Institutional Proposal

Record completed works that have been submitted to a sponsored funding organization.

With an intuitive interface and sleek integrations with other modern software, Kuali simplifies the administration process, increases the compliance of your research projects, and maximizes the funding you get from each proposal.

Learn more about Kuali Research today.

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