3 tips to surviving the grant writing process

As you begin to prepare yourself for the upcoming grant writing season, consider the recent survey of 195 academics, by  Ted and Courtney von Hippel, which found the average proposal takes a principal investigator 116 hours (see publication). It’s no wonder that the grant writing process is loathed by many researchers, as it costs them over 100 hours lost time from their ongoing work, all for a success rate as low as 15%.

As you embark on this grant writing season, keep in mind the following three things.

  1. Play within the rules.

Many people would be aware of last year’s outrage when a grant application to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) was rejected because its header was 0.2mm smaller than it should have been.

Keep a copy of the granting requirements with highlighted or noted key parts next to your computer for easy access and to refer to as needed.

  1. Don’t let perfection be your paralysis

Often the fear of critique, or not feeling that the draft document is ready for collaborators to see, can paralyse the process. Try and avoid the trap of digging deeper and deeper into the literature and writing and rewriting sections over and over. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to have someone else read and constructively critique your work. It is very easy to lose sight of the goal when you are so close to the process.

To avoid paralysis set yourself some key deadlines for others to read your work, even if you don’t think it’s ready.

  1. Preparation and planning are key

Hopefully, you have already assessed your project needs,  lined up your collaborators and determined what equipment and resources your collaborators will bring to the application process. In case you missed it, I previously listed the 3 Must-do’s for your next grant application.

Create a plan for the grant writing process. Microsoft Excel is your friend in this regard. Enter the weeks or days along the top row of a spreadsheet and then list all required tasks and the person responsible for them in the first two columns. You can colour code and anything else that you need to help you plan. Make a checklist of final things that need to be done before submission and make sure the relevant people know their roles and responsibilities. This is a team effort.

Start with the end date for final submission and work backward. Ask yourself:

  • When is the last day that you would ideally like the collaborators final revisions back?
  • What do I need to do in the final day/hours before submission?
  • Who are the collaborators that I will need to manage because they never return work on time?

Plan for last minute hiccups such as difficulty scanning letters from collaborators or other organisations, computer and software malfunctions, the size of files you need to upload and time to do this.

As you move into and through the grant writing process, try and take the time to reflect on the bigger picture and the goal you are working toward. It is vital to step away from the process, often for a day at a time. This reflection time will open your mind to different thinking and create clarity around your ideas. It is very easy to get caught up in the rush of timelines and deadlines, and that is when we often lose clarity in our message.

These are a couple of resources that I would recommend taking a look at:

Tell them; then convince them and Grant writing and academic survival: what the fellow needs to know

Need help with you impact statement or the plain language summary of your grant, or perhaps you want some guidance to keep you on track? Get in touch to see if we are a suitable match for your project – email info@ktaustralia.com

As always, happy translating.