Preparing a Grant Application

The preparation of any type of grant application requires a great deal of thoughtful planning and time. First, in preparing an application, it is important to understand the rules for developing and submitting it within one’s institution. Each institution has its own set of procedures, internal deadlines, and rules for overseeing budget preparation and compliances as well as uploading and electronically submitting an application. Internal rules for submission may also vary depending upon whether the proposal is to a federal agency or a foundation. Key institutional considerations include identifying who must be notified of a potential proposal submission; the administrator responsible for budget preparation; and the official “signing” officer who is permitted to officially apply his or her signature on an application for its submission. It is also a good idea to identify a few individuals within the institution who might be willing to provide a review of the application prior to submission to the funding agency. Some institutions have an internal review as a required part of the grant submission process. If this is the case, it must be planned for and built into the grant preparation timeline. Finally, it is critical to identify all internal institutional deadlines for submission of proposal materials as soon as possible as they are necessarily earlier than those imposed by an agency.

Second, once a particular funding source and program announcement are identified, reading the application guidelines very carefully (and supplemental instructions if provided) is an imperative. To structure a proposal, it is recommended to use the suggested outline provided in a funding announcement or the specific criteria that will be used to evaluate the proposal. This makes it easier for reviewers to follow the ideas and methods presented and evaluate the proposal accordingly. Some applications have very strict guidelines and requirements, which if not followed may disqualify the proposal from being considered. It is also important to identify institutional resources that might be required as part of the application requirements such as letters of support from institutional officials, statements of institutional facilities such as laboratory or equipment facilities, or the need for matching funds. In addition, it is important to identify collaborators and any potential consultants early on and what materials or information they will need to provide for the application. Again, you must allow sufficient time for your collaborators to prepare what is needed such as a strong letter of support, outline of scope of work, budget, or biographical information.

Third, well-written proposals use a technical writing style, the active tense, and are clear, concise, and logical. Disorganized proposals or those that use jargon, or specialized terminology without providing a clear definition, are less likely to receive positive reviews. A proposal marred with grammatical and typographical errors bring into question the merit of the ideas and the ability of the investigative team to carry out the proposed activities and can significantly lower reviewers’ scores. It is not just about the science, but also how it is packaged and visually presented. Writing the application is an iterative process. Whereas the study aims dictate the methodologies to be used, each is tied as well to budgetary considerations. Thus, while one starts with a study purpose and specific aims, the methodological and budgetary considerations may lead to multiple refinements to the aims.

Fourth, it is important to understand the review process of the agency to which a proposal will be submitted prior to developing the application. Discuss with a program officer the backgrounds of those who may review the grant application, the review processes followed including whether a grant can be resubmitted if not funded on the initial attempt, and the scoring procedures that are used. Also inquire about the evaluation criteria and what aspects of an application are most important to highlight (e.g., impact, innovation).

Most grant applications are critically reviewed along five basic areas: significance or the public health import of the idea; innovation; an investigator’s/team’s abilities and whether an appropriate team has been assembled; adequacy of the approach or research methods proposed; and whether the environment is adequate and supportive for the effective conduct of the proposed research. Common critiques from reviewers of any type of proposal include but are not limited to: lack of new or original ideas; unfocused research plan or research plan that does not match the proposed specific aims; poorly developed or insufficient theoretical base

TABLE 23.1 Common Reasons Why Intervention Proposals Fall

1. Lack of sufficient details (e.g., of intervention, recruitment plan, cost analyses, training staff)

2. Insufficient pilot support for the intervention and its components

3. Lack of attention to mechanisms of change

4. Replication and sustainability of intervention not clear

5. Lack of an appropriate control group

6. Poor or missing fidelity plan

7. Intervention too costly

8. Appears beyond capacity of principal investigator and/or team and environment

9. Outcome measures not linked to intervention, research aims, or not sensitive to detect change

10. Analytic plan inadequate, insufficient power

11. Insufficient power for primary or secondary aims

12. Intervention, methods not innovative

or link between project (e.g., measures) and theory not clear; inadequate review of published relevant work; lack of details concerning recruitment approaches; insufficient power; lack of experience in the proposed methodology or questionable experimental approach; or lack of sufficient experimental detail (Gitlin & Lyons, 2013). Key weaknesses noted by reviewers specific to intervention proposals are listed in Table 23.1.

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