Five key questions that are universal to all grant writing will determine the success of a proposal. Knowledge, credibility, direction, research, and passion are essential components of any proposal. Politics will also play an important part in this process. This requires a full understanding of what the funder wants. If the objectives and the language of the donor are effectively integrated into the answers to the following questions, then the chances of success are excellent.
Why do you want to do this? The immediate answer should be because you care about the idea, which will serve either a specific population in need or fill an important knowledge gap in the field. Another important reason for your desire to do this is your passion for the subject. This is a key element in grant writing that should be expressed in an honest and convincing manner. Unfortunately, this is a major pitfall for many investigators who have been taught to write manuscripts, which require a dispassionate writing style that utilizes a passive voice.
Why does it need to be done? Your own hunch is the first step in answering this question. You probably have worked in the field and noticed over and over again that something is missing and needs to be corrected. The next step is a thorough review of the literature that will address what is absent in solving the problem that you propose to tackle. It might also be that you have made a thorough investigation of what your population needs via questionnaires, observations, and discussion. Their answers will lead to the intervention and the reason you are about to apply for a grant. At this point, you will need to address the significance of your project in an innovative and transformative way.
Why should we believe that you can do it? If your project is feasible, focused and persuasive, the next step will be to convince your donor that the project is worth doing and that you are the best person to do it. The single most persuasive item that you can provide is evidence of your credibility via your extensive experience in the field, your academic training, publications, synergistic activities, and if the donor requires, letters of support from colleagues, supervisors, partners and mentors. The same would apply to your team and organization. In other words, is your team credible, and is your organization supportive?
How are you going to do it? This will be your business plan, which will be logically written in the prescribed format that the donor requests. The “how” requirements can vary from grant to grant. For project grants, it will include the goal and the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) objectives. For a research grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it will include your hypothesis, specific aims and methodology. For others such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), your intellectual merit and broader impacts will delineate how you will do it. This section will require specificity, creativity and a keen understanding that there may be obstacles along the way, but that you are prepared to address and solve them when you encounter them.
Where have you gone for the information? The steps you have taken to understand the need for your project will be shown by the literature review and the preliminary data. For example, have you thoroughly researched the problem? Did you address the “so what” question? Did you seek evidence-based information? An example of the latter might be the best evidence for diagnosis, treatment and prevention options for health disorders that are tailored to the characteristics and context of the individual patient and the resources of the provider.
What distinguishes winning proposals are the answers to the above questions, which ultimately translate to your thorough understanding of the problem and your passion and fervor in undertaking the project. Your credibility as the director of the project and the credibility of your institution will also be key contributors to a successful proposal. At the end of the day, the pathway to being funded will depend on clear writing, a thorough literature review and a detailed and focused business plan that walks the donor through the actions that you will take to succeed.
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