Poorly written proposals often contain small issues that could have easily been remedied if one had paid close attention to detail. On the other hand, there are other major errors that can immediately disqualify a proposal from being funded, such as the lack of research depth, a bad idea, weak institutional support, and unqualified personnel. Listed below are critical mistakes which you need to avoid making at all cost:
- Not allowing sufficient time to write: Allowing enough time to do the research, effectively writing the proposal, and ensuring that all the letters of recommendation and forms requested are appropriately completed are key components to success. It has been demonstrated that those who submit their proposals three or more days prior to the deadline have a 37% greater chance of getting funded than those who submit at the last minute.
- Not paying attention to instructions: It is extremely frustrating to be rejected for something as simple as margin width or font size, yet this is a common occurrence. 50% of the proposals that are submitted to various federal agencies are immediately eliminated because directions were not followed.
- Poor writing: Grammatical errors are not the only sign of poor writing. There are many more, such as the use of acronyms and jargon, wordy sentences, long paragraphs, and making readers fish for the main reason the request is being made.
- Failure to edit the application: This problem can easily be remedied if a prospective grantee gives his/her proposal to a qualified editor to proofread before submission. Although reviewers are not charged to score an application for grammar, poor writing reflects sloppy work and lack of attention to detail.
- Failure to convey to the reviewers that your research is interesting: The Principal Investigator (PI) should be enthusiastic about the project. Lack of enthusiasm is contagious; reviewers will feel it and will lose interest in your project.
- Lack of preliminary data or research: If you are writing a research grant, preliminary data is essential in proving that your hunch or hypothesis is plausible. If you are writing a project grant, thorough research of your subject matter is what makes your proposal credible.
- Project that is too ambitious: Lack of focus is clearly reflected both in the scope, as well as the writing. Your preliminary data and research will be a good guide for how to narrow the focus of your proposal and do what is possible within the allotted time. Another good restrictive measurement is the budget.
- Lack of experience in the field: The credibility of your proposal depends on those who will implement it. Thus, you must include the most qualified personnel. Reviewers are looking for project directors or principal investigators who are trained in their field, have succeeded with similar projects in the past, are recognized for their contributions, and have a proven record of efficiently working in a team.
- Selecting a project that will have limited impact: A project that will have broad impact demonstrates that the money awarded will serve a large population that needs the intervention. Limited impact on the other hand, can be costly, not sustainable, and restricted to a small population.
- Limited support from your institution: Institutional support demonstrates that your project is part of the institutional mission, and that it will be sustained in the future. Furthermore, projects that your institution financially and philosophically supports have a much greater chance of success.
Many of the aforementioned mistakes can easily be committed if you are in a rush. Knowing who you are, what you wish to accomplish, and delineating how you will accomplish your tasks is extremely important. Ultimately, professionalism, attention to detail, and enthusiasm will be the characteristics that will advance your proposal to the top of the competition.
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