You want money? Improve your chances of writing a winning grant proposal

3 min read
First Published: 
Sep 2006

Key Learnings contained in this article:

At some time in their careers most health economists will be faced with writing a grant proposal. Doing it properly will greatly increase your chances of separating potential granters from their money. Here are some pointers:

  • Understand who you’re writing to and what their needs are;
  • Underscore your project’s suitability for funding;
  • Make clear why you’re the right person to undertake the project for which you’re seeking funds;
  • Know your resources of grant makers, using such online sources as the Sponsored Programs Information Network (SPIN);
  • Find out what fiscal resources your potential grantor has;
  • Prepare a realistic budget;
  • Don’t hedge: write your proposal in strong, simple language;
  • Develop an arresting opening statement;
  • Get colleagues to review your proposal; and
  • Remember that the acceptance rate for grant proposals by such organisations as the National Institutes of Health in the US are in the 15–20 percent range.

Keep in mind that a grant proposal, unlike an article submitted to a journal, won’t have the benefit of an editor. In other words, if your submission is unclear, unfocused, disorganised, unspecific, or just poorly written, it will be thrown aside.

The same fate will await you if you miss the granting organisation’s required deadline. It’s also true, though, that even if it’s written in impeccable prose, a grant proposal that’s inherently flawed or unworkable won’t get support.

In Preparation of the Research Grant Application: Opportunities and Pitfalls, George Eaves advises prospective grantees to state their study objectives and specific aims clearly; to state the significance of the problem to healthcare; to use the literature review to justify the need for a proposed project; to organise paragraphs to permit intelligent skimming; to prepare and justify your budget carefully, including personnel, equipment, supplies, and travel; and, above all, he says, don’t inflate proposed budgets. And follow all instructions to the letter.

For those of you in the pharmaceutical industry, the same principles can be applied to the internal budget planning rounds that are underway in most companies at present.

Artificially inflating budgets might seem more irresistible in this situation where budget cuts are frequently encountered. In these circumstances, we suggest you present your proposals with ‘levels’ of resource, so that, in the case of a project undergoing a budget cut after it starts, you can move from the ‘deluxe’ model to an ‘economy’ model but not lose the ability to complete the project.

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David Woods
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