Grant Writing Tips

"It is important to know who you are writing for and how they will evaluate your proposal. If you are writing for a Federal funding agency, a good first step is to call a program officer and find out what review group might be most appropriate for your type of proposal. See if they can comment on your idea. It is sometimes helpful to e-mail a paragraph outline of the idea for them to react to. Program officers are often very helpful and very friendly!"

If you can figure out which panel might be most appropriate for your idea go and look at the roster for than panel to see who will be reviewing the proposal. It may be that you will recognize some of the names of the people on the panel.

As you begin to write the proposal, keep in mind that the panelists will be required to rank your proposal on each of the following criteria. It can be useful to keep these in the back of your mind as you write your proposal.

> Does this study address an important problem? If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced? What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts or methods that drive this field?

Are the conceptual framework, design (including composition of study population), methods, and analyses adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the project? Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics?

Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches, or methods? Are the aims original and innovative? Does the project challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?

> Is the investigator appropriately trained and well suited to carry out this work? Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience level of the principal investigator and other researchers (if any)? PLEASE DO NOT INCLUDE descriptive biographical information unless important to the evaluation of merit.

Does the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Do the proposed experiments take advantage of unique features of the scientific environment or employ useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional support? Please do not include a description of available facilities or equipment unless important to the evaluation of merit.

Overall Evaluation
In one paragraph, briefly summarize the most important points of the Critique, addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the application in terms of the five review criteria. Recommend a score reflecting the overall impact of the project on the field, weighting the review criteria, as you feel appropriate for each application. An application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have a major scientific impact and, thus, deserve a high merit rating. For example, an investigator may propose to carry out important work that by its nature is not innovative, but is essential to move a field forward.

Gender, Minority and Child Subjects
Examine whether the minority and gender characteristics of the sample are scientifically acceptable and consistent with the aims of the project, using the categories of "1" to "4" as follows. Also examine whether there is appropriate inclusion of children (individuals under the age of 21). Also determine whether the research is a Phase III clinical trial.

Category Gender (G) Minority (M) Children (C)

1. Both genders, minority & non-minority children and adults
2. Only women only minority only children
3. Only men only non-minority no children included
4. Gender unknown minority representation unknown representation of children unknown

Evaluate acceptability as "A" (acceptable) or "U" (unacceptable). If you rate the sample as "U", consider this feature a weakness or deficiency in the design of the project and reflect it in the overall score.

"If you have your idea and you know what committee it might go to, you are ready to begin forming, crafting, and developing your idea into a full blown proposal. This is a longer process than is typically realized by the beginning proposal writer. To help you plan your time and stay on track as you develop your proposal, we offer the following "milestones." These should help keep you motivated along the way, but also keep you striving to move forward. You may want to enter prompts about these milestones in your planner or palmpilot. Remember that you will need to set aside blocks of time for working on the proposal."

Milestones and Target Dates for Writing a Grant Application: Providing a Structure for Success

Suggested Target Dates - Grant Application Started in September

I. Problem Identification 9/18

1. Presentation of research interest.
2. Narrowing down interest into testable hypotheses with mentor
3. Identification of funding sources that fit with hypotheses
4. Identification of target funding source(s) with mentor
5. Obtain information from target funding sources of proposal
formats - - check with mentor

II. Operationalizing Constructs Presented in Hypotheses 12/8

1. Presentation by mentee of their procedures to his/her mentor
2. Feedback from mentor

III. Writing the Conceptualization and Procedures

1. Draft the specific aims and significance sections of proposals 1/19
2. Draft the method procedures section 1/19
3. Draft circulated to mentor 1/19
4. Mentors return draft with comments to mentee 2/9

IV. Conceptionalization to Operationalization to Data Analysis

1. Draft analysis section 3/16
2. Draft circulated to mentor 3/16
3. Mentors return draft with comments 3/30

V. Mechanics

1. Human Subjects Forms 4/14
2. Budget-Draft a proposed budget with assistance of mentor 4/14
3. Budget Justifications-Draft 4/14
4. Prior research and preliminary studies-Draft circulated to mentors 4/14
5. Mentors return draft with comments 4/25

VI. Completed Proposal Circulated to IBR Mentor Committee 5/11

VII. Feedback on Completed Proposal from IBR Mentor Committee 5/22

VIII. Revisions and Elaboration 5/22-8/17

IX. Final Proposal Ready 8/17

"Now you are ready to begin developing your idea. Below we provide a very quick overview of the process to help you get your bearings. You can do this!" Click here if you are interested in a more detailed description of the process of putting together a grant proposal.

Introduction to Grant Writing

Three Ideas That Work For Any Grant Proposal

> Have a good idea. Write a 2-3 paragraph description
> Seek feedback from agency and colleagues throughout the process.
> Follow successful examples to help make formatting and budget writing easier

Getting Started

> Consider collaborating with an experienced grant writer
> Be realistic in your goals and expectations
> Budget your time--Break up the work into manageable chunks
> Fundamental question: Is this research significant AND manageable?

How to Get Started

Before you write your proposals...who is your audience?

> Contact the funding agency to find out who specifically will be reading your proposal

Start writing for your funding source: Write a proposal tailored to their criteria

> NIH, for example, requires:

      >> Specific Aims
      >> Background and Significance
      >> Preliminary Studies
      >> Design and Methods

Specific Aims (What do you intend to do?)

> Usually a single page
> List the specific objectives this proposal will accomplish
> Overview major studies and what each study will accomplish toward objectives

Significance (Why is the work important?)

> Briefly indicate what lead to your proposal
> Critically evaluate existing knowledge
> Identify gaps in existing literature
> State specific hypotheses
> Identify the importance of your research in the larger picture

Preliminary Studies (What have you done?)

> Establish your expertise and competence to pursue this research
> Show how your previous work is related to the current project
> Pilot data show you can do what you say you will do. It also shows you can find what you are predicting

Design and Methods (How will you do it?)

> Show the reviewers that you have the knowledge and skill to execute the research
> Consider the need for Letters of Support
> Discuss potential pitfalls and solutions

Design and Methods

> Describe data collection procedures in detail

>> Tell a story of data collection, chronologically

> Construct a time line (1 page only)

>> Be realistic

>> Estimate time to complete entire project, build in extra time for unexpected events

Data Analysis

> Detail your statistical procedures for testing hypotheses
> Include power analyses to justify sample size
> Show you have the statistical experts necessary on your team
> Show how data will be interpreted. Be very detailed


> Find a copy of a budget going to that organization
> READ the directions that come with the proposal application kit
> Schedule an appointment with sponsored programs for help and clarification

Final Proposal

> Make sure the rules are followed to the letter
> Leave plenty of time to get:

      >> Department Approval
      >> College Approval
      >> Sponsored Program Approval

Five Practices of Highly Successful Grantwriters:

> Have a good idea and write for your audience
> Get critical feedback throughout the process
> Specifically address each criticism when resubmitting a proposal
> Follow agency's rules
> Persistence Persistence Persistence!

"Many people find the preparation of grant budgets to be quite enjoyable. Others find it a nightmare. If you fall in the latter category, we suggest that you begin to work early with the person who will be administering the grant. Planning to meet with this person at least one month before your due date, and perhaps earlier still can reduce last minute headaches. Allow time for developing the budget and making sure you have included everything you will need. Below we alert you to some of the basics of grant budgets for NIH. Remember that even if you are writing a proposal for an agency or for a mechanism that does not require a detailed budget, the UGA Research Office will want to see a detailed budget. In addition, detailed budgets are very helpful in getting you to think about what you will need to successfully conduct your research."

Preparing Grant Budgets

I. Overview

A. Planning Your Budget

1. Don't' procrastinate - Budget shouldn't be the last task in preparing your proposal.

2. Consult with professional colleagues on the scientific portion of your proposal but departmental support staff or Sponsored Programs' staff may be more familiar with budget procedures and guidelines. Take a look at previously submitted or funded proposals.

a. Rules and guidelines change--what was okay on a previous proposal might not be acceptable now.

b. Internal procedures and rules may vary from one university to another

B. What Are the Some of the Rules?

1. Cost Accounting Standards - What are allowable costs?

a. General office supplies (i.e., paper, pencils, pens, binders, postage, basic telephone charges) are usually not allowable costs. Exceptions considered "unallowable" must be identified and justified to be included in the budget.

b. Telephone line charges, administrative clerical support, routine postage, and copying are examples of other unallowable costs. Again, however, exceptions for these items may be allowed if they are identified and sufficient justification is provided in the narrative.

2. Cost Sharing

a. Cost sharing is any unrecovered cost for conducting grant business (can be real dollars contributed or a university's contribution such as a person's time).

b. If a promise or commitment of a contribution is made in the proposal (even if not specifically listed in the budget), cost sharing is mandatory.

c. Cost sharing is not encouraged unless mandatory by the granting agency. Once cost sharing is promised, the contribution "must" be documented if the grant is funded.

3. Salary Cap

NIH has a salary cap and individuals paid from NIH grant funds must adhere to the salary cap. (Difference in funds paid with grant funds and total allowable by the institution must be cost shared.)

Academic ($126,025); Fiscal Year ($166,700)

C. Modular or Regular Proposal

a. Budgets totaling $250,000 a year or less (direct costs) must submit a modular budget. (Budget is awarded in modules of $25,000.) UGA requires a detailed budget even for modular grants.

b. Proposals with budgets totaling $500,000 a year or more (direct costs) must request approval from NIH before submission. (New rule).

D. Developing a Budget

1. Construct a timeline (by year) of tasks to be done on the project. This will be beneficial in your design and methods section of the proposals but will also be of assistance in constructing a preliminary budget to complete the tasks.

a. Using your timeline, itemize for each year by category, what grant financial resources will be required to complete the task. Typical categories include: personnel, external consultants, equipment, supplies, travel, other expenses, and consortium (sub-contract) costs.

b. Calculate budget totals by year and add to budget pages.

2. Prepare budget justification

a. Modular budget requires less detailed justification (usually personnel only unless there is a variation in number of modules requested).

b. Non-modular budgets require detailed justification. Pay particular attention in justification to items normally considered allowable costs.

3. Calculate Facilities and Administrative Costs

a. What is it? Typically called indirect costs or overhead, it is the reimbursable cost that an institution recovers for providing office space, research or laboratory space, administrative and clerical support to an externally funded grant.

b. Rate is negotiated between the institution and the federal government for a specified period of time (usually several years). Rate varies depending upon whether the grant is on-campus, off-campus, federal or non-federal grant.

c. Negotiated rate at UGA for most federally funded projects is 47.5% of modified direct costs.

Non-capitalized equipment (between $1,000 and $4,999) should be listed in the other category rather than the equipment category and is subject to F&A calculations.

d. Complete checklist page. Transfer totals of direct costs and indirect costs to face page of the proposal.

4. Have budget, justification, and check list page reviewed by department grants officer or institution Sponsored Programs office.

"After you submit your proposal, you will wait to hear how it was scored at review. This feedback will come in the form of a numerical score, a percentile score, and written comments. Remember that not getting funded the first time does not mean your idea cannot be funded!!! Most proposals get funded on the second or third round, not on the first. Typically, on the first round the panelists will attempt to help you improve the research to make it a better investment of research dollars. Pay careful attention to the comments, and to the extent possible, incorporate the comments into your revised proposal. Also, be sure to discuss in your initial comments (where allowed by the granting agency) how you you have constructively addressed the reviewer comments and how those comments have improved the quality of the proposal."

"What Does My Score and Percentile Rank Mean?"

Numerical Rating

Each scored grant application is assigned a single, global score that reflects the overall impact that the project could have on the field based on consideration of the five review criteria (significance, approach, innovation, investigator, and environment), with the emphasis on each criterion varying from one application to another, depending on the nature of the application and its relative strengths.

The best possible priority score is 100 and the worst is 500. Individual reviewers mark scores to two significant figures, e.g., 2.2, and the individual scores are averaged and then multiplied by 100 to yield a single overall score for each scored application, e.g., 253. Abstaining members and those not present during the discussion do not assign a numerical rating and are not counted in calculating the average of the individual ratings.

For research applications, reviewers are also asked to recommend that half the applications not be scored and to spread final scores to achieve a median score of 300. (Any member of the scientific review group may request that an application be scored, in which case all members must score the application.)

Percentile Conversion

Research grant applications (RO1s) reviewed in CSR study sections are assigned a percentile rank. The conversion of priority scores to percentile rankings is based on scores assigned to applications reviewed during the current plus past two review rounds.

Applications reviewed by a standing study section are percentiled against all applications reviewed by that same study section for the three consecutive rounds.

Applications reviewed by Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs) are percentiled against the parent study section database if at least 30% of the reviewers are current or recent (during the last 2 years) regular members of that study section.

Applications reviewed by SEPs where fewer than 30% of the reviewers are current or recent members of a standing study section are given a percentile based on the distribution of scores assigned by all CSR study sections. Note that at CSR, applications other than RO1s (e.g., fellowships, small business applications) are not percentiled.

Additional Resources

NIH Home Page for New Investigators

Detailed Description of the Grant Proposal Process www.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/grants/index.htm

Frequently Used Institutional Data

Modular Research Proposal

Sample Modular Budget & Justification

Cost Accounting Standards

Qualitative Methods in Health Research

Department of Health and Human Services

Links for Grant Writers

The University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts & Sciences Website Contact