Over the last few months, I read several blogs related to grant writing. It is a kind of ritual I follow to ensure that I stay attuned to the latest ideas and tools for more effective grant writing. The following are three of the gems I collected along the way. I believe these will help you be more intentional when choosing a funding agency, will save you time and will make your grants more memorable:
Blend Research and Emotions
In “How to Write a Successful Grant Proposal by Blending Research and Emotion”, Thomas Nicholson, correctly identifies two important components of the grant writing process. Less experienced granthackers often fail to appreciate these two elements. The first of these components is the explicit recognition that we write grants to target specific funding bodies (and call or scheme within that body) and yet often grant writers forget to research the funding body (or the call). Because grant writers are usually very focused on their work, they will obsess with, e.g., trying not to miss a critical reference or on being on top of the state-of-the-art. Equally important, however, is to familiarise oneself with the institution one will be requesting money from: it is imperative to align the PI’s ethos with the grant’s and the funding body’s ethos. A misalignment between the three is a sure recipe for failure. The other component is to -at all times- keep in mind that reviewers, panel members and grant programme officers are flesh and blood people, not robots; they have their likes and dislikes, whether consciously or unconsciously. Thus, one needs to write grants with deliberate appreciation that there-is-a-human-in-the-loop who has limited time, is resource-limited, is probably under lots of stress and has a whole life besides reading and evaluating grants. Therefore, a skilled grant writer must surely appeal to empathy for winning the day. To know more about this read Thomas’ post and also check my previous blog “It’s All Basic Greek To Me”.
Focus First on the “Specific Aims” Section
Sarah Dobson specialises in USA’s NIH and related grant schemes, but her advice -I believe- applies quite universally. In her blog “Want to write a successful grant? Nail this part first” she persuasively argues that PIs, both junior and experienced, must seek early feedback. Often grant writers spend too much time refining a grant proposal to a point that, when they finally seek feedback from colleagues, they find it hard to take it on board. This is because by that time they are already too accustomed to their text and hence they find it hard to alter it to account for often useful suggestions. The antidote? Sarah proposes that one should first write a one page summary of the specific aims sections, then seek feedback (from colleagues, funding agency managers, etc) and then improve the aims section based on the feedback received. Once a solid specific aims section is achieved, then one can proceed to write the full proposal. In this way, if one does not get clear cues that the grant is going in the right direction (the specific aims section failed to convince anybody) we have not spent ages working on it. At most one would have spent a few hours perhaps a couple of days on the specific aim section only. Because of that small initial commitment, one will feel more ready to ditch it if it was not good. If you want to read more about grant prototyping check out my previous posts “Prototype your grant in 30 minutes or less” and “One Idea To Rule Them All”
Design a Good Title
Crystal Herron has a large number of excellent articles about scientific writing, including grant writing. I picked “How to write a winning grant title” because it is a subject that always leads to discussions and arguments when writing collaborative grants. People get attached to their preferred title and can seldom articulate good reasons to do so. A title is a crucial element inside the machine that is a grant. Thus, it is important to consider it carefully. Crystal suggests that titles should resonate with the funding body and programme to which the grant is being submitted, should be short, use plain language, should be specific and front-loaded amongst other things. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the title sets the tone for everything that comes afterwards; the title functions as an aide-memoire for reviewers and panel evaluators. Make the title memorable and your grant will be a better one.
I hope you find the advice by Thomas, Sara and Crystal useful. Get in touch with comments, questions or suggestions, I am keen to hear what you think!
Wishing you every success in 2021! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.