Our guidance for writing a good research grant application.

6. Content and presentation

The research proposal is the means by which you will be trying to convince the Panel that your proposal is worth funding so think carefully about what information you are going to give and how it is presented. Make sure you think your project plan through and cover all stages of the research lifecycle. The project lifecycle includes the planning and research design stage, the period of funding for the project, and all activities that relate to the project up to - and including - the time when funding has ended. The research lifecycle therefore also includes knowledge exchange and impact realisation activities, the dissemination process - including reporting and publication - and the archiving, future use, sharing, and linking of data. Many proposals are unsuccessful not because they lack interesting or important research ideas, but because they fail to communicate adequately how these research ideas will be explored and translated into an achievable plan of action. Many proposals devote too much space to explaining why the research is important and too little to detailing how the research will be conducted. Therefore it is vital that you have a full understanding of what is required, as well as knowing the various stages of the application process, so that you maximise your chances of gaining an award. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I clearly formulated the problem? Have I:
    • put it in the context of contemporary scientific and theoretical debates
    • demonstrated the way in which my work will build on existing research and make a contribution to the area?
  • Is there a clear and convincingly argued analytical framework?
  • What will the research do, to whom or to what, and why?
  • Have I established appropriate aims and objectives? Are they clear and concise, do they reflect intellectual aims and practical, attainable objectives?
  • Have I provided a well-thought out research design in which there is a reasoned explanation of the scale, timing and resources necessary? Am I being realistic about these? What will my research design allow me to say in the interpretation of anticipated results?
  • This proposal will be subject to the critical appraisal of my peers. Am I satisfied that I have fully defended my chosen research design and made it clear why others are not appropriate?
  • Am I using the most relevant approach and the most appropriate methods? How will these relate to and deliver the objectives?
  • Have I given a full and detailed description of the proposed research methods? Is there any innovation in the methodology I am planning to use? Am I developing any new methods or using established methods innovatively?
  • If I intend to produce data, have I considered:
    • Already existing data resources?
    • Contacting the UK Data Service (UKDS) regarding potential  data issues, for example, further data re-use, data protection, archiving and deposit?
    • The quality, validity, reliability and relevance of the data?
    • The costs of cataloguing and preparing data for archiving?
    • That I have demonstrated a clear and systematic approach to the analysis of data and how this fits into the research design?
    • That I have included written confirmation from data providers that access will be given, where necessary.
  • If I am planning to create a research resource or infrastructure have I provided evidence of wider demand?
  • Ethical issues within the research:
    • Have I thought about the ethical issues that may arise as a result  of what I am planning to do throughout the research lifecycle?
    • Are there any sensitive issues or potential problems which need to be addressed?
    • Have I fully consulted on these issues and obtained the approval of an ethical committee where required.
  • Have I recognised and planned for the skills and competencies that will be required to bring the work to a satisfactory conclusion?
  • If the proposed project has capacity building elements have I adequately described these in the Case for Support?
  • Have I justified why this is the best team to undertake the proposed research and given sufficient thought to the roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved?
  • Is the proposed approach to project management sensible and robust?
  • Have I anticipated potential difficulties? Have I shown that I recognise these and have I discussed how they would be handled?
  • Have I provided a bibliography? This may be used in the selection of referees and will indicate your familiarity with the theoretical grounding and current state of the art of your proposed research area. Where there is genuinely little or no relevant literature, explain this fully. Panel members and referees will not assume your erudition, they want evidence.
  • Where appropriate, have I identified potential users of this research outside of the academic community; have I involved/consulted them in my planning? Have I arranged for their continuing involvement in the research process in an appropriate way?
  • Have I considered the possibility of co-funding of the research, with ESRC being asked to provide only a proportion of the project funding?
  • Have I provided a clear and appropriate knowledge exchange strategy for the research involving all interested parties including potential users of the research outside of the academic community?
  • Have I outlined appropriate and creative impact plans (throughout the project) and recognised that it is important to devote sufficient resource to activities which will contribute to impact generation and impact evaluation?   

Convey to the Panel your genuine interest, understanding and enthusiasm for the work. Keep the following questions in mind as you plan:

  • What is the story you are telling?
  • What is the audience?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why now?
  • Why you?  

The Case for Support (6 sides of A4) is the core of your application. It is also important to make sure that you devote enough space in the proposal to describing the research you intend to conduct and the research design and methods - the Panels find it very frustrating when applicants devote pages to explaining why their proposed research is exciting but then provide only a short and inadequate explanation of how they propose to explore this in practice.

Write in plain English. Your proposal is likely to be seen by many people, including some who will not be familiar with your particular specialism. Detail and specification may necessitate the use of disciplinary or technical terminology and this will be clear to peer reviewers, but the ideas you wish to convey and your reasons for doing so should be apparent to a wide audience. Don't try to cram too much into your Case for Support and remember that we will be checking font size and page margins (please check the guidance for details). Peer reviewers and Panel Members do not welcome dense blocks of text which have not been broken down into paragraphs and sub sections. By the same token, do take the trouble to check spelling, grammar and punctuation. These are all part of the quality of presentation and presentation matters!