Five Crucial Facets of Successful Research Funding

Do you want to get a grant? Chances are that you can, but only if you properly organize yourself. Whether you have a complex or simple proposal, the major facets you must master are: rigor, focus, preliminary data, communication, and persistence.


Rigor encompasses a whole host of practices. In research, it’s the belief that your field demands constant improvement by closing existing gaps in knowledge, which may exist because of inaccurate methods and measurements, or completely non-existing ones. In order to fill these voids, a commitment to addressing all aspects of the research and careful attention to detail will be required. Rigor also implies that your methodology is conducted systematically, and that your research design addresses your questions, hypotheses, variables, and data collection methods.


One of the most common mistakes is an overly ambitious proposal. For example, a proposal to research the general effects of obesity in the entire population would be unrealistic and, needless to say, impossible. In contrast, a proposal to examine health related improvements of severely obese men and women between the ages of 45 – 55, who begin a three times per week exercise regiment, would be a much more focused study. You should assure that your hypothesis is precise and that your specific aims can be accomplished in the amount of time allotted for the grant.

Preliminary Data

One of the surest ways to kill a promising proposal is with a lack of preliminary data. Once you have identified the problem you wish to address, you will need to have preliminary data to support your hypothesis and aims. The more preliminary data you have, the more you will be considered a serious investigator, who has taken the time to develop a hypothesis that is well rooted. Research grants of course vary, and some are geared for new investigators and therefore may not require extensive preliminary studies and data. Nevertheless, for any investigator, the more preliminary data you have to support your research, the better.


As a proposal writer, your audience (reviewers) will want to find candidates who are the most likely to succeed. Walk them through your plan and how it will be implemented (activities/methodology) and demonstrate that your outcomes will match their measures for success (evaluation criteria). Your goal should always be to write about the importance of your intervention in a way that moves the readers and makes them want to fund your project. The difference between a good story and a superficial one is that the latter provides too easy a solution. To avoid this, your interventions should be innovative, and should make a real and tangible difference in your field. Your story should convey the overall impact of resolving difficult problems.


It is important to remember that the success rate for many research grants can be in the teens. Thus, some lucky people will get funded the first time, but chances are that it will not happen so easily. If your proposal is rejected the first time, you should take the comments from the reviewers seriously and address them appropriately and politely in your next submission. If the reviewers thought that your idea was strong, but that there were flaws in other areas, your chances for success in the second submission are excellent. At the end of the day, your persistence will pay off.

Believing in your idea, a specific hypothesis constructed via your preliminary data, and outlining an innovative and transformative approach will get you eighty percent of the way to being funded. You will also need to tell the story in a persuasive way that highlights the need for and importance of your idea in the field and for the people who will be served.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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