How to Write a Grant Proposal: 4 Tips for Research Students

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If you’re aiming for a long career in academia, you probably already know that full-time research projects can be incredibly demanding on your time and resources. For this reason, most master’s and Ph.D. students rely on grants to do their work. In many cases, it’s simply not feasible to carry out a large-scale research project without financial backing, so grants open up the world of academia and make a lot of valuable research possible. 

Indeed, grants allow students to advance their work and focus entirely on their research rather than having to work part-time jobs and burning themselves out in the process. This funding option can make for more effective—and certainly faster—research. However, applying for a grant and receiving it are two very different things, and the key to success lies in the proposal itself. If you’re using someone else’s money to conduct your research, they’re going to want proof that your work is valuable, and that’s what you need to demonstrate in your grant proposal.

Whether the financial resources you’re applying for are provided by a private company, a large international organization, a non-profit, or the government, the way your application is written and presented can make or break your chances of getting the grant. Successful grant recipients invest time and effort in crafting stellar proposals that set them apart from the crowd. You’re competing against countless other ambitious scholars who are equally passionate about their projects, and your grant proposal is the only chance you have to distinguish yourself, so it’s worth it to spare no effort when preparing this document. 

It’s crucial to meet all the submission requirements and present a project relevant to the grantor because something outside their field of interest will likely be rejected, even if it’s a great idea. Therefore, don’t waste your time and effort reaching out to grantors that your project isn’t well suited to. It will take some research on your part to narrow down the best grants, those that will provide you and your team with the resources you need for the duration of your project. 

Once you’ve chosen your grantor or grantors (we recommend submitting your proposal to more than one institution), it’s time to check their submission requirements and start preparing your application, which is when many people begin to feel overwhelmed. There are various factors to take into consideration, and you also have to make sure your writing is professional and polished. 

If grammar, punctuation, and spelling aren’t your strong suit, check out our deluxe academic package, which goes above and beyond to help you write an impeccable grant proposal. Our academic writing professionals know how to help you frame and word your proposal to maximize your chances of securing the funding you need.

Let’s now examine some of the things you need to keep in mind while writing your grant proposal.

1. Define your hypothesis

The first thing a potential grantor will want to know is what exactly your project is about. In order to communicate this effectively in your proposal, you must first define your hypothesis. You need to be clear about what you want to do, how you intend to achieve it, whether it’s innovative and interesting enough, and whether it’s feasible within the available budget. If any of these areas are fuzzy, you’re not likely to get the funding—the grantor will award it to a project whose parameters and goals are clearly defined. You can hardly blame them as it’s their money, and they want to be certain they’re spending it well.

When writing your proposal, consider the overall design of your research project, any questions or obstacles that may arise, the logistics of it, and your expectations for the results. In essence, think through every aspect of your project and consider what problems you may have to contend with. Try to address in advance any questions a potential grantor might have. Once you have a well-defined thesis, it will be much easier to plan the rest of your proposal and stay focused on the idea you’re selling. 

2. Prepare an outline

Good writing takes work, and though everyone has their own process, creating an outline before diving into your first draft is a great way to kick things off. An outline helps you structure your thoughts and organize them into a polished, professional-sounding proposal. It also offers a great way to spot any glaring issues before you get down to writing the text.

How you structure your proposal will depend on the grantor’s guidelines, but standard sections include the abstract, introduction, literature review, project description, and budget justification. Make sure the order in which you organize your sections is logical and easy to follow, and don’t forget to double-check the submission requirements to make sure you’re not missing anything. These requirements should be your guiding light—unless you follow them to a T, you won’t receive the grant. Any other decisions you make about the structure should simply build on the requirements.

Outlining gives you the chance to figure out what you want to say and how to structure it. If you’re applying for multiple grants and tailoring each application (which you definitely should be doing), an outline can help you determine the fixed points and messages to include in your proposal, regardless of who will be reading it. In this sense, it functions as a template of sorts, serving as a solid base for you to customize each application. In other words, your outline will contain the skeleton of your proposal, the subject of your research, and your petition for funds, making it easier to flesh it out before each submission. 

Avoid the temptation to create a single proposal and submit it to multiple grantors. For one thing, each organization will have its own submission requirements, but beyond that, generic proposals are far less likely to impress a grantor than carefully tailored applications. When your cookie-cutter proposal comes up against a competitor’s customized submission, you’ll be at a major disadvantage.

3. Consider the tone and style

You don’t have to worry too much about your audience while creating your outline since that’s for your own reference only. However, once that’s all worked out, you do need to consider the tone and writing style of your proposal. This is academia, so be mindful of what language you use, how formal or casual your tone is, and how straightforward the proposal is overall. 

As a rule of thumb, you should adopt a formal, professional, and clear writing style. Don’t go overboard with the formality, though, and remember that overly fancy vocabulary and excessively complex structures don’t make you look smarter—in fact, they may have the opposite effect. Focus on crisp, clear communication and aim to paint a vivid picture of your project.

Be respectful to your reader, but keep in mind that not everyone who gets to read your proposal is an expert in your field, so pay special attention to making your idea easy to understand by explaining the more complicated details. Show your personality and creativity when appropriate and be confident in your expectations, but be careful not to come across as arrogant or condescending. If you’re unsure about your tone, ask peers, friends, or family members to read your proposal and provide feedback. Input from laypeople can give you valuable insight into how comprehensible your proposal is to non-experts.

4. Edit and proofread

Although self-editing is a key step in the writing process, you shouldn’t rely on it alone for a document this important to your career and your future. Even if you’re a brilliant writer with a firm grasp of grammar, editing your own work effectively is nearly impossible—your brain “autocorrects” mistakes because you know what you meant to write. 

If you can get a professor to revise your proposal, grab this opportunity—having an expert go over your hypothesis will ensure you’re properly communicating the right ideas. However, your professor might not have the time to carefully comb through the text and check for grammar and spelling errors, which is why we highly recommend you get your proposal edited and proofread by a professional editor, who will focus on spelling, grammar, word choice, and sentence structure. For the highest-quality edit, hire an academic editor with expertise in your field—our editing team boasts specialists in various disciplines.

If you feel that your grant proposal could benefit from more work on its structure and clarity and from a round of proofreading, learn more about our deluxe academic package. It includes a detailed editorial letter to help you identify and solve any issues in your writing, a requirements review to make sure you’re following all the submission guidelines, free revisions for 30 days, and much more.  

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