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Writing Successful Grant Applications

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  1. Writing Successful Grant Applications Dr. Monica Swahn Associate Vice President for Research mswahn@gsu.edu / 404-413-1148 March 8, 2012

  2. Learn about funding sources Hallmarks of successful grant writing Ideas Grant application Brief overview of non-scholarly parts Objectives of Workshop

  3. University Research Internal Grant Program http://www.gsu.edu/research/funding_opportunities.html Tenured and tenure track faculty Dissertation Award for doctoral students 10 different programs (see URSA Funding Opportunities) Support for salaries, supplies, and GRAs Student Technology Fee http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwstf/ Technology must be used in teaching but can also be used in research College and department may have funding Funding Opportunities “Internal to GSU”

  4. www.grants.gov Most Federal agencies post announcements and gives faculty immediate advantage Community of Science (COS) All inclusive database that includes a diverse source of funding Faculty can set up email alerts Website info: http://www.gsu.edu/research/funding_opportunities.html URSA conducts workshops for COS Funding Opportunities Databases

  5. Personal contacts: importance of mentors Acknowledgements in published papers GSU’s news sources for others at GSU who have received funding in your area (Research Update, Web) Professional organizations (conferences and newsletters) Attend Sponsors’ workshops (e.g, NIH regional conference in spring) External Funding Opportunities:How do I find what’s out there?

  6. 3 Basics 2 1 Simple Math Skills Competitive Proposal Worthy Idea Ability to Read & Follow Instructions

  7. Good Idea--where it starts RFP-(RFA, FO) follow it diligently Arguments--well articulated and based on review criteria Novel approach Strong team Know your Reviewers Key Ingredients

  8. Begin with the idea and look for the Funding Opportunities or Funding Source Find a Funding Opportunity to do the work you want to do Good Ideas--Where do they come from?

  9. Understanding the problems, issues, concerns Knowing what the most pressing unanswered questions are Knowing what’s been tried as solutions Being able to articulate the issues The Best Ideas Come from Knowing an Area Well

  10. No matter how well you write or package your grant/proposal, the key to success is a good (great) idea HOWEVER, a good idea that is embedded in a poorly written/packaged grant/ proposal will not be fundedand regardless of how good the idea! A Good (Great) Idea

  11. How to get started? • Start thinking of interesting projects • Discuss your ideas with others • Talk to a mentor (others who have been funded in your field) • Complete as much of your current, related work as possible, write and submit it for publication • Look for possible funding • Read the guidelines for Funding Opportunities • Find out what has been funded • Consult program staff

  12. RFP Request for Proposals (grants) RFA Request for Applications (contracts) PA Program Announcements (grants) FO Funding Opportunities • GOAL/MISSION/PURPOSE OF FUNDING OPPORTUNITY: • Who is soliciting (what agency) • Who is eligible to apply • How to apply (procedures) • Structure of application • Review criteria • Budget ceiling (or award range or specific award amount)

  13. Read it carefully: Mission Review criteria Read the fine print-- when it’s due (receipt date or mail out date) who’s eligible to write what they’re looking for Follow headings as carefully as possible FO--It’s Your Bible

  14. Read mission of agency/foundation/program announcement Look at past funded projects (NIH RePORT; NEH lists awards on website; NSF Data base) DON’T write a proposal for something the Sponsor has never funded before without assurances that it “fits” mission Program staff How Do I Know It Is A Good Match?

  15. National Institutes of Health Related to human disease? Related to significant deficit in our knowledge of important biological process? Will the results of experiments lead to improvement of human condition? Example of Mission Statements

  16. Institute of Education Sciences Will my results help improve educational practice? Is research design consistent with “scientific methods”? National Endowment for the Humanities Does it strengthen teaching and learning in the humanities in schools and colleges? Does it advance knowledge of the founding principles of the United States in their full historical and institutional context? Example of Mission Statements

  17. Program Officers • Get to know program officers at agency: • Mentioned in FO • Meet at conferences • Ask mentors about agency politics • Can be your best friend

  18. Look in FO first (don’t bother with questions answered in material) Concept relevant? If not, recommend modification? another source? Common strengths, weaknesses? Who reviews?* What criteria?* Willing to give feedback on draft? • Who is soliciting (what agency) Program Officers ____________ * IF NOT IN FO or website

  19. Grantsmanship • Writing for your audience • Know your Reviewers and the review process • Good communication is important • Marketing • Grant writing is different from writing for publication • Reading and understanding directions

  20. Read a Funded Application • Federal agencies have databases of past funded grants • URSA can search our database for funded Principal Investigators • Look for inspiration! • Carefully read grant applications: • Why did this get funded? • How can I model my project after it?

  21. Grantsmanship • Rule #1 • DO NOT write an application for yourself unless you are going to fund it yourself • Write for your Reviewers • You must convince the entire Review Committee and the Funding Agency

  22. Writing for Reviewers • Organize the Application (What, Why, and How’s) • What do you want to do? • Why do you want to do it? • How are you going to do it? • What is the expected outcome? • Why is it a good thing?

  23. Writing for the Reviewers • Address the review criteria. Answer the questions • DO NOT make the Reviewers work to find the answers • Use headers and be organized to make it easy • DO NOT assume the Reviewers will figure it out themselves • Reviewers want to be led by the hand • Reviewers are NOT experts

  24. Reviewers like Proposals that • Strong Research Team • PI is well-trained and productive • Publish, publish, publish • Have collaborators that “together” can do proposed work • Are well-written

  25. Reviewers like Proposals that… • Easy to read • Easy to understand • Brief and to the point (focused) • This is not the place to impress Reviewers with everything you know • Focus, focus, focus

  26. Guide the Reviewer through the whole grant/proposal: Feed them all they need to know but do it slowly! Research/scholarly plan is like a high-level sales plan Don’t let the Reviewer’s mind wander Don’t overwhelm the readers with facts “The more energy and time a Reviewer has to devote to figuring out your application, the less energy a Reviewer has to actually review your application” – New Law of Thermodynamics Elliot Postow Organization

  27. Abstract is an overall summary: Could be last thing you write Critical for grabbing Reviewer’s attention May be only thing most people on review panel read Should be consistent with rest of proposal But do not just cut and past from proposal The Anatomy of a Common Grant/Proposal

  28. Not just a literature review…more like a lawyer’s opening statement Must be clear about why this is an important question or project How this project will significantly advance what we know, what we can do In first paragraph, make whole project clear Introduction (Significance)

  29. Introduction • Context part • What is the problem, why is it important? • What gaps in knowledge exist and why is it important to fill them? • What techniques and methods are you going to use, what will it tell you and what are the limitations? • This section established depth of PI’s thinking and knowledge, but don’t waste valuable space with broad picture.

  30. You either grab the reader (or lose him) in the first few pages with the significance of the issue Compelling statistics (even current headlines) are influential The writing must be clear or the reader will lose patience Why Introduction Sections are so Important

  31. Go right for the jugular Deliver your message fast By first paragraph, reader knows what project is about (no long “V”) So what if: They give you money and you do the work. What is their return? Innovation statement is here: What is new, novel, a breakthrough? Significance

  32. Get the reader up to speed An average college-educated adult with a relevant background, should be able to understand: Only you have the means of obtaining that information (because of your approach/innovation) **Your ultimate goal is to convince them that if they don’t fund you, then progress in this field will slow or stop! Make sure you include research directly tied to your study not just generally related Background

  33. Background • Explain in some detail why the combination of your portion of the big picture problem, model, and methods will yield information that is unique and how other approaches will not work, or at least not as well as yours • Do not overly criticize other approaches • Person may be your Reviewer!

  34. Project must address question that is clearly linked to gap in knowledge NIH/NSF requires specific aim The most difficult section to write Needs to be compelling Needs to be clearly Hypothesis driven that are testable Can’t be a fishing expedition Specific Aims, Hypotheses & Questions

  35. This is where you turn your good idea into good science/scholarship This is the heart and soul of the grant/proposal Design starts with the first Specific Aim, question and then describes each task, experiment, or component associated with the specific aim Design and Methods

  36. Usually most important Should be as clear as possible Usually not enough space to be thorough Be creative about tables and figures Have a good match between research questions, constructs, and measures Robust Methods

  37. Caveats about the methods used, variables measured, and the general design of study Outmaneuver the Reviewer to the punch line: be self-critical, but not to the point that confidence in what you are proposing is lost Offer alternative methods for measuring whatever you are interested in (if they exist) and state why and when you would give up on your current method and try the alternative method Depends on sophistication of review panel Design and Methods

  38. New grants/proposal You present your preliminary data, studies, or work here Reviewers, regularly, question feasibility and whether the PI is qualified to conduct the work are answered here Progress Report & Preliminary Studies

  39. Establish mentors early Pick winners in the grant/proposal world Provide clear instructions What you want them to do When you want them to do it Take no for an answer Remind gently Show appreciation Feedback is HIGHLY CRITICAL! Get Feedback

  40. Set the grant/proposal aside for 3-4 days (at least) to gain some perspective Refine, refine, refine. Make it shorter, more lucid and simpler Less is more The logic and the design should be 'tight' There should be NO typographical, spelling or grammar errors A sloppily written proposal suggests that your science/scholarship also might be sloppy Revision and Refinement

  41. Know the review criteria Not necessarily the same as “sections in application” Make sure address all and make it clear Headings/sections Know the review process Know who the Reviewers are Cite work in proposal Aim writing for level of expertise Review Process

  42. NIH Federal Scientific Review Know who the potential Reviewers are and do what you can to “control” the selection process (refer to the web), if necessary Self Referral Letter – request specific study section Research the background of the Review Committee NIH Database Rosters of Committees Letter to SRA recommending types of Reviewers “TYPES” OF REVIEWERS NOT NAMES OF REVIEWERS

  43. Common Assumptions About Review Process • The Reviewers share your interest in and enthusiasm for your proposal • You must make them interested and enthusiastic • The Reviewers have expertise relevant to the subject of your proposal • You must write the grant as if they do not have extensive expertise because they likely don’t

  44. Continued – Common Assumptions About Review Process • All Reviewers either have, or will make time to read your proposal in detail • Some Reviewers will read it in detail (Primary and Secondary Reviewers), others won’t (Discussants) • The Reviewers will be fair and impartial in assessing the merits of your proposal • Fairness and impartialness will be the goal, but if you are a known ‘bad guy’ you might not be given the benefit of the doubt

  45. Unoriginal ideas Diffuse, superficial Lack of knowledge Lack of detail Uncritical Poor reasoning Inadequate rationale Unrealistic workload Uncertain future directions Reasons for No Support

  46. Headings should follow prescribed order or Headings should follow Reviewers’ Criteria or You should provide guide for Reviewers showing page numbers of where Reviewers will find key sections Proposal is Hard to Follow

  47. Be sure you go over each sentence and follow it carefully Check “carefully” whenever the FO says “must” Read FO again and again (at least 3 times: once “before”, “during”, and then “after”) Not Following Directions in the FO

  48. Write the nasty reply you would really like to send and then destroy it NEVER PUT INTO A RESUBMISSION ANYTHING “NEW” THAT WAS NOT ASKED FOR BY THE REVIEWERS! When rebutting the Reviewers, be sensitive to the 'tone' of your writing If you are argumentative and defensive, then you will not be funded! You should indicate the major changes in your revised proposal by changing the type font, or style, but not by underlining (its too difficult to read that way) Preparing the Resubmission and Rebuttal

  49. Final Recommendation Don’t give up!!!!! Revise, re-submit, find other funding sources, team up with other successful grantees, and learn from feedback. Stamina Required……..

  50. Allow yourself to walk in Reviewers’ sandals Learn your topic well so you know the right questions to ask Offer up a good argument Have the best science/scholarship Always follow directions! Five Important Hints for Writing Proposals