Earlier this year The Guardian newspaper ran a tweeting session on grant funding with some well known funders giving feedback to questions raised by academics and administrators. The full set of tweets was previously published on this blog and as promised ESDS has now gone through all these and provides you with 5 top tips for academics:
1. It is critical to get the idea across in the most effective manner as quickly as possible so that the reviewer “gets it” and is excited about what is proposed rather than become infuriated by having to wade through to find the nub of the idea (which remember will make them feel inadequate and subsequently will not score the application as highly as they might otherwise have done). Typically your reviewers are not experts in your exact field and they don’t have time to read all the proposals so develop a style that is effective and quick by breaking the project down into 4 sections
What is the question?
Why is it important?
How will your research answer it?
How will the findings be exploited or move the field on?
You can then use these to further breakdown subsections of your research. Always ensure that the message of the paragraph is contained in the first sentence, and leave time to alter these answers dependent upon feedback
2. The lay summary is the most important ‘hook’ for your project. Often, if this is seen as dull and unintelligible, then the Panel member will read no further, to them your application is just one amongst many. Your summary has to excite them into reading more whilst making clear the 4 main questions of What is the question? Why is it important?
How will your research answer it? How will the findings be exploited or move the field on?
3. A question asked by panel members is “why should we trust X with Y thousand pounds of public money”, and it’s good to have an answer to that in terms of project management experience. Having successfully delivered on a funded project before (even an internally funded project from your own institution) will help here, and those who are ‘second career’ researchers who have substantial experience of managing budgets, project management etc should make this clear. For those without, including something in the application which shows that you have thought about those challenges and intend to or have attended training courses as this will reassure panel members. Obviously all this is secondary to track record, quality of the proposal etc, but sometimes showing that you’re a safe pair of (administrative) hands is a good thing and can only boost chances of success.
4. Forming good, mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues internally and externally is absolutely indispensible and will last your whole career
5. Rejection rates are very high and Panels can be slightly capricious, you probably want to try out a set of ideas five times at the most before you decide that they are unfundable and move on