Grant development

Grant Development Toolkit

Ten Key Things You Must Do!

Tip #1 - Read the Application Form and Take it Seriously

  • Do what the application form asks you to do and in that order
  • Review committee members who have to spend substantial time sorting out an application tend to get annoyed and suspicious

Tip #2 - Pay Attention to the Granting Objectives and Criteria

  • Carefully review and be sure you understand the competition
  • Ensure you are in the right competition or recraft your application to fit
  • Confirm that your project fits the Request for Proposals
  • Agencies that fund reptile reproduction research won’t take a second look at your human cardiovascular disease project

Tip #3 - Write Clearly

  • The proposal should flow logically from section to section, and from one argument to the next
  • The background should lead the reader to the need for the research question posed
  • The methods should describe how the research question will be answered
  • Long sentences and complex phraseology do not reflect scholarship
  • Applicants may be penalized for their lack of ability to communicate clearly
  • Use simple declarative sentences
  • Use an editor if appropriate
  • Avoid the use of jargon, unusual abbreviations, acronyms, and poor syntax
  • Avoid repetition and misleading arguments


Tip #4 - Do Not Trust Your Computer Spell Checker

  • Use a dictionary
  • If you can’t get the spelling right, reviewers wonder how you can get the research right
  • Proof read! Proof read! Proof read!

Tip #5 - Be Succinct and Avoid Ambiguities

  • More is not better
  • Fuzzy objectives are easy to spot
  • If objectives are vague or too general, the reviewers can’t make an assessment
  • Reviewers should not have to second guess the intent of a research proposal; they will guess wrong as often as they guess right


Tip #6 - Convince Reviewers that your Research Proposal is Spectacular

  • It is not enough to have a good idea - you must sell it! - remember that there are millions of great ideas out there so make sure that yours stands out
  • Offer only a few research questions as this is the core of the proposal - do not be too ambitious!
  • Your one-pager must be excellent – it may be the only thing read by reviewers
  • Budget realistically, justify everything, and give details
  • Have a detailed knowledge translation section

Tip #7 - Package the Application Material Well

  • Your application must be easy to read
  • Choose a dark, clear typeface, and do not write in a small font
  • Use headings, bold, underline, italics to show the logical progression through the application
  • Have reasonable margins and break up the text into paragraphs
  • Do not reduce spaces between the lines
  • Do not bind

Tip #8 - Have Your Application Critically Reviewed by Colleagues

  • Seek a mentor: especially important for new researchers and first-time applicants
  • Capitalize on the experience of your colleagues: the local pre-review process
  • Check resources at your university or organization: e.g., UBC SPARC offers peer-review
  • Having others read your application will increase your chances enormously!


Tip #9 - Spend Time on the Application

  • Schedule your time carefully because it takes time to complete a good application
  • Reviewers can tell when an application has been put together at the last minute
  • Good grantsmanship cannot save a bad idea but poor grantsmanship can sink a good idea

Tip #10 - Heed the Reviewers’ Comments

  • Even if you are successful, you should still consider the peer review comments
  • Make changes to your proposal
  • It will improve your project

Most Importantly…

  • Do not get discouraged!
  • Make the strongest case you can and keep trying


You can write a successful grant application !

How to Search for Funding?

Project Idea in Hand

  • Prepare carefully for proposal development
  • Read all relevant literature thoroughly
  • Invest time in preparation and begin several months prior to any funding deadline


Identify an Agency with a Mandate that Encompasses Your Project Idea

  • Your project should further the mission of the agency to which you are applying – match proposal to agency goals
  • Ensure your proposal fits within the funding guidelines and specific competition priorities
  • Carefully review the eligibility requirements
  • If you are in doubt, contact the agency directly to clarify your eligibility or special requirements


How to Find Out About Funding

  • Talk to your colleagues and take advantage of their wealth of resources
    • Ask your mentor, chair, or director
    • Meet with your research office staff
  • Subscribe to a listserv
    • Some sponsors provide Request for Application (RFA) notification - e.g., :
      • Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR): Funding News
      • Vancouver Foundation: mailing list for Grants and Community Initiatives Program
      • Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences (CHEOS): receive grant alerts - available to Providence Health Care clinicians and researchers
  • Actively search online for funding

How to Search for Funding Online

  • Use Funding Databases: when you are unsure which agency is most appropriate

Getting Started with Small Grants

Some Funding Sponsors Offer Small Grants to Jumpstart Your Research

  • They come in different forms and in varying dollar amounts depending on the sponsor:
    • Seed Grants
    • Research Proposal Development Grants
    • Networking Facilitation Grants
    • Research Capacity Development Grants
    • Collaborative Team Building Awards
    • Community-based Research Grants

What are Some Benefits of Securing Small Grants?

  • Broadens your research experience and establishes your credibility as a researcher
  • Allows you to gather pilot data in a short-term project
    • to test research ideas, methods, logistics and timing
    • to build the case for your proposed research in the next grant application
  • Provides funds for team building, networking, and travel to strengthen your proposed research and solidify your research team
  • Helps new research teams to successfully compete for research funds at the national and international level
  • A starting point to establish a research career

Funding is Available!

  • There are numerous funding pools available to each of you:
    • You have nothing to lose but so much to gain!
    • Don’t be intimidated – just get started with small grants
    • Get support from your colleagues and build research teams

Anatomy of a Grant Application

A Summary of What Grant Applications Require:

  • A Letter of Intent (LOI) - some competitions may not request an LOI
  • The Complete Grant Application:
    • Summary Information
    • Brief summary of research proposal
    • Research proposal
    • Budget and justification
    • Letters of Support
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • External Reviewers
    • Application Checklist


The Letter of Intent

  • Letter of Intent (LOI) / Notice of Intent (NOI) / Letter of Inquiry (LOI)
    • terminology may differ among sponsors
    • requirements are typically the same across all sponsors that request an LOI
  • An LOI may be requested prior to the full application submission
  • It often follows an agency’s Request for Applications (aka Call for Proposals) by 1-2 months
  • The LOI provides the agency with formal notification that you will be submitting a full application by the deadline
  • Typically includes:
    • names of Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-applicants
    • affiliations of PI and co-applicants: names of organizations or institutions
    • your project title
    • a short summary of your proposed project
      • this allows the agency to screen out applicants who don’t meet the eligibility requirements


The Grant Application - What is Required?

    • Principal Applicant:
      • Name, address, phone, fax, email
      • Organization with which you are affiliated
    • Project:
      • Title
      • Keywords
      • Primary location of research
    • Certificates Required:
      • Ethics approval
      • Biohazard/bio-safety approval
    • Amount Requested:
      • Budget summary (no details required here)
    • Project Team Information - Co-applicants:
      • Name, address, phone, fax, email
      • Organization and department
      • Signature
    •  Who Will Administer the Funds - Financial Officer:
      • Name, position
      • Organization, address, phone
      • Fax, email address
    • Project Signatories
      • Depending on the agency to which you apply, signatures are needed from:
        • Principal applicant
        • Co-applicants
        • Head of department
        • Executive authority of host organization where research will be conducted
        • Your application will not be accepted if there are any missing signatures!


    • Overview and Relevance of the Project:
      • What is the problem to be solved and is the project relevant?
      • Indicate a knowledge gap and rationale for why your project is needed
      • How will the research be done? Indicate the general approach that would be taken to answer your research questions: identify your methods and research plan
      • Why is the research important? How is your project innovative, novel and appropriate for this particular funding program? Identify the relevance of your project and state its significance
      • What is the expected impact of your project? Who will benefit? Describe outcomes as tangible measures of success that can be used during and after project completion
      • This is your sales pitch - make it relevant!
      • A key component of your research application - many reviewers will only read this


    • Detailed Research Proposal
      • Describe the rationale and significance of your project
      • Review existing knowledge and describe knowledge gaps
      • Clearly state your project goal and objectives
      • Describe the research design, methods and data analysis
      • Provide complete and appropriate references
      • Reviewers want to see that your work is scientifically sound and that you know exactly what you are doing
    • Project Work Plan
      • Describe your work plan using a time chart or clear text
      • You are more likely to be funded if you can demonstrate that you know what you are doing and when you are doing it
      • Reviewers want to know what are you doing, when you are doing it, and who is responsible for doing it
    • Knowledge Transfer Framework
      • How will Results be Disseminated?
      • Will the project results have an impact?
      • How will results be communicated and disseminated to those who should use them? (e.g., policy makers, stakeholders, the public)
      • What steps will you take to disseminate your results?
      • To whom will those results be disseminated?
      • Review committees will need to be convinced that your communication and dissemination plans are appropriate
      • State exactly what your plans are and how they are appropriate


    • Project Budget -
      • Typically includes:
        • personnel salaries and benefits (e.g., research assistants, trainees, interviewers - include names if possible)
        • supplies and expenses
        • permanent equipment, database access
        • services (e.g., photography, computing)
        • travel to present findings or for collaboration
        • knowledge transfer plan
      • Review committees are evaluating whether you are including items that are appropriate for the project activities
      • The budget is a direct result of your outlined methods
      • Be as detailed as possible - the more the better!
      • Salary support for the principal applicant is generally not permitted except if they are trainees or research associates on the grant or a decision maker
      • Do not include infrastructure costs (space rental, heat, light, furniture, regular telephone service, secretarial support, etc)
    • Budget Justification
      • Justify each expense for which you require funding support
        • Provide adequate and persuasive justification for each item
        • Use narrative form
        • Reviewers should be convinced that you truly do need the items listed in your budget
      • Include all sources of partner contributions
        • May include space, equipment and supplies, and volunteered time
        • Specify provision of cash or in-kind support
        • Include matching funds, if applicable
      • If equipment is permitted:
        • Prove that you need the equipment
        • Demonstrate that you have tried accessing the equipment elsewhere
        • Attach supplier quotes
      • If consultants will be contracted:
        • Attach quotes


    • Provide contact information for the key supporters of your project
      • Key supporters may be universities, agencies, or community partners
      • Describe their involvement to date? – prior involvement is a good indicator of a strong linkage that will last through project completion
      • Describe their expected role in your project. What are they bringing to your project (e.g., expertise, resources)?
      • Each supporter must provide a letter of support describing what they are committed to offering your project
      • A letter from your employer indicating their willingness to participate is often recommended
    • Request letters of support early
      • It is recommended to request letters at least three weeks prior to your deadline, preferably six weeks before deadline
      • Reviewers should be convinced that you have the support necessary to carry out the proposed project
      • Do not submit the same support (form) letter for each of your partners or collaborators


    • Provide biographical sketches of your research team: the curriculum vitae
      • The principal applicant and co-applicants must complete this section
        • Full name, title, institution or organization
        • Educational background: institution, degree/diploma, certificate/qualification, year conferred, field of study
        • Research, professional experience, publications
        • Demonstrate that your team members collectively have the necessary skills to conduct the proposed project activities
    • Funds requested and funds currently held
      • List any funding applications that are pending or under review
      • List all funding you have been granted and currently hold (i.e. active grants)
    • Most significant contributions
      • List contributions you have made during your career that you feel are significant and have had an impact. These could include:
        • awards or recognition for research conducted
        • research published
        • presentations delivered
        • teaching or program curricula developed


    • You may be asked to provide the names of 2-3 external reviewers
      • They should have the expertise to critically evaluate your application
      • The agency may or may not use reviewers you have recommended
      • Reviewers must be impartial
      • Avoid conflict of interest


    • Some funding sponsors will offer a checklist to assist applicants
      • Print and post this checklist
      • Check ‘away’ dates for those from whom you need signatures
      • Submit the Letter of Intent by the posted deadline
      • Request Letters of Support at least three weeks before the posted deadline
      • Distribute your draft proposal for review by colleagues
      • Make revisions, carefully review every question and submit by the posted deadline!

Common Concerns of Reviewers

What Reviewers are Looking for Overall

  • Are you aware of relevant background literature?
  • Are your hypotheses clear and testable?
  • Do you and your research team have the skills (as judged by your training, experience, and publications, if any) to complete the proposed project?
  • Have you initiated collaborations (with supporting letters) to help with skills that you do not possess?
  • Can the proposed objectives be completed within the requested granting period and with the requested resources (personnel, supplies, equipment)?


Common Weaknesses in Proposals

  • Poorly identifying and substantiating a significant issue
  • Unclear in how money will be spent for project activities
  • Nature of the problem is unclear
  • Inappropriate method selected to address the problem
  • No clear plan for evaluating the project
  • Objectives are not clearly measurable
  • Time schedule is unreasonable
  • Problem is more complex than can be addressed within the funding parameters
  • Community was not involved in the planning process
  • Agency does not have any experience in the proposed area


Reviewers’ Common Complaints

  • Excessive use of unnecessary jargon
  • Incomplete or improperly completed forms
  • Too much unnecessary text
  • Not conforming to formatting requirements (e.g., font too small)
  • Poorly organized proposal (e.g., insufficient use of headings)
  • References are incomplete


Proposals are Rejected Because…

Your Research Problem

  • The problem is more complex than the investigator appears to realize
  • The problem is unlikely to produce new or useful information
  • The research involves too many elements under simultaneous investigation
  • The problem is scientifically premature and warrants, at most, only a pilot study
  • The research hypothesis is not based on sufficient evidence

Your Research Approach

  • The description of the approach lacks clarity
  • The methods proposed are inappropriate for the objectives
  • The research design/approach is poorly developed
  • The equipment to be used is unsuitable
  • The statistical approach is poorly developed

The Investigator

  • The investigator has inadequate experience for the research
  • The investigator requires more collaboration with colleagues
  • The investigator appears unfamiliar with recent pertinent literature or methods
  • The investigator is spreading him/herself too thin
  • The investigator’s publications in the field do not inspire confidence


Reviewer Comments

Comments provided by reviewers come in different forms. They may bring attention to some of the shortfalls of the research proposal. In some cases, reviewers will commend an applicant and their team on the research they are proposing to conduct. Many reviewers will even provide recommendations on how to improve the proposal. In any of these cases, there is a lot to learn from their comments. Try to keep an open mind when reviewing those comments. Be sure to make the changes necessary to improve your application for next time (if rejected), or to improve your project further (if accepted).

To follow are some excerpts from actual reviews conducted by peer reviewers, highlighting the area they are commenting on, however, maintaining the anonymity of the applicant by removing any exposing keywords.

On Originality and Practical Applicability

"… It is felt that this project is innovative, applicable to population of study, and could have significant contribution to a clinical area of strong need. It is agreed that education and awareness of X is quite poor, and the author has selected a population where there is likely very little vigilance to the issues. The originality and practical applicability is the greatest strength of the outlined protocol and the author should be commended for dedication in this respect …"

On Importance

"… The knowledge transfer and exchange element of this proposal is underdeveloped. It is restricted to the environment of the immediate organization. Furthermore, there are no letters of support attached to the application. Only a list of partners is provided, which puts into question the cohesiveness of the network suggested …"

"… This project has the potential to serve as a model for other healthcare settings as well as the methods for determining what improvements are needed … has the potential to be utilized in any industrial setting …"

On Methodology

"… In general, there is lack of detail about the project making it difficult to assess. There are also design and measurement issues. The design issue is critical to making conclusions based on your findings. There is no control group, and thus, you have nothing to compare your results to …"

"… The methodology is the weakest aspect of the proposal. Better clarification is needed. For example, once the population is baselined, how will X be specifically diagnosed, triaged, and reported to the lead researcher? …"

"… It is clear that the author simply cut and pasted several aspects of the language in this document. For example, the description of X is verbatim out of the manual, and the definition/description of Y is taken directly from a manuscript. This is not appropriate for a scientific review. The author should not use language in the third person to describe aspects of the protocol, and some statements should be specifically referenced for the reader. Better scientific writing would add to the credibility of the project …"

On Knowledge, Expertise and Experience of Research Team

"… This is the most seriously flawed aspect of this application. The team is made up of one single member. The limited academic training is not particularly compensated by experience. A single applicant with no other team members can not address all the complex facets of X and Y. There is also no one available as a partner who could provide the expertise to conduct the complicated analysis …"

"…There are concerns that the author may be naive to some core methodological issues and research concepts. Clarification of the methods is needed …"

"… The authors are well qualified and have done a lot of research in the proposed area. They may wish to consult with a statistician for adequate sample sizes …"

"… The letters of support are excellent and it is clear that the applicant is perceived as highly regarded, conscientious, and will likely be highly vigilant in terms of follow-through of the study. The education component of the protocol will be effective and of significant value."

On Overall Evaluation

"… This proposal addresses an important and timely topic and could provide some unique and interesting results. However, the proposal suffers from a faulty research design (no control group) which would seriously limit the interpretation of results. The proposal also lacks details on the intervention and how it would be implemented …"

"… It is unfortunate that the applicant is isolated – the applicant would benefit from a stronger team where the applicant’s skills and interests could be supported, and this would also provide a learning environment …"

"… If the methodology is better clarified, this would improve the project’s credibility. It is recommended that the specific research hypotheses, baseline and testing protocols, potential confounding variables, and statistical considerations of the specific hypotheses be revised. With these improvements, the protocol would be of significant value, especially from a general education and health improvement standpoint …"

"… This project has solid design characteristics and a research team that is capable of successfully completing the project in the time and with the resources proposed. The research is practical and would likely provide both immediate and long-term benefits. The project has the potential to make a long term contribution to X…"

If Your Proposal is Rejected

  • You are not alone!
  • Carefully read through the reviewers’ comments
  • Make the suggested changes to improve your proposal
  • Resubmit to the same or another funding agency
  • Treat this as an opportunity to review the ENTIRE proposal, while addressing the specific issues raised by reviewers. BUT remember a new panel will treat your next application as an entirely new proposal and will not see the previous reviewers comments


Think of the Reviewers

  • Avoid verbosity - be clear - answer all questions carefully and in detail
  • Reviewers do not simply read, they interpret
  • Do not force the reviewer to hunt through the application for information
  • Write to convey and inspire confidence
  • Establish the need, importance and originality of your research
  • Set challenging yet realistic goals
  • Clearly articulate the theoretical or conceptual framework: prepare the literature review carefully
  • Pay close attention to describing your methodology and the relevance of your project


Tell a Tidy Story

  • What you want to do
    • central hypothesis/research question: the big idea
    • specific objectives and goals
  • Why is your research question a reasonable one to address
    • review the previous literature: what is known about the topic
    • describe any knowledge gaps
    • succinct rationale for your project: concept and approach, how can it be applied
  • How are you going to do it
    • detailed work plan with a logical sequence and timelines
    • describe how you will analyze and interpret results
    • identify any pitfalls, how you will overcome them, and any alternatives
  • Why you should take on this project
    • what are your relevant skills and experience
    • who are your collaborators to fill any technical gaps in your experience
    • report on any baseline data demonstrating feasibility of your project

Building Partnerships

The Benefits of Building a Partnership

  • Enhances physical and financial resources for a project
  • Enhances the quality and effectiveness of your research
  • Expands your project outcomes and impacts
  • Increases chances of grant success

Partnerships are More Effective Than the Individual Because:

  • They further support your organization’s mission
  • They provide greater access to resources
  • They create alliances that will last long after the project is complete
  • They allow you to share authority over a project
  • They provide opportunities to co-manage a project


How to Find Potential Research Partners

  • Join and search ResearchGate for researchers with needed expertise
  • Attend networking events
  • Consider those you already know:
    • your personal networks
    • former colleagues or employees
  • Search the membership and attend meetings of your professional associations
  • Research established organizations
    • Universities and Colleges
    • Hospitals and clinics


Clinicians and University Researchers: An Example of a Beneficial Partnership

  • Clinicians and university researchers would both benefit from building partnerships
  • Increase the experience and expertise on the team and improve chances of success
  • Broaden the scope of your research to enhance the impact on end users


Suggested Steps for Developing Partnerships

  1. Share your vision with potential partners
  2. Build relationship with potential partners through participation in cultivation meetings
    • Early discussions should include all the appropriate stakeholders
    • Identify who will be the key decision-makers
  3. Discuss and create a tentative process your partnership will follow
    • Identify expected outcomes for partners and participants
    • Outline the impact of your project
    • Set some specific goals for involvement of partners and participants
  4. Clearly outline your organization’s needs
    • What are the funding requirements?
    • How much personnel time will be needed for research activities?
  5. Establish roles and responsibilities of the research team members
  6. Discuss and establish your research goals
  7. Identify appropriate accountability procedures
    • How will conflict be resolved?
    • How will project changes be addressed?
  8. Define project operation protocols
    • Decision making
    • Reporting

Maintaining Your Partnership

  • Maintain regular communication with partners
    • Host effective project meetings
    • Provide updates to all stakeholders of your progress and successes
  • Evaluate the impact your partnership is having
    • Make use of project evaluations (formal)
    • Host focus groups (informal)
  • Celebrate your accomplishments together
    • Showcase your partnership in newsletters, annual reports, and publications
    • Organize and host a community celebration
    • Organize and host a research event

Examples of Competition and Project-Specific Partners

  • University of Northern British Columbia
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Victoria
  • Simon Fraser University
  • Health Canada
  • BC Cancer Agency
  • Aboriginal Communities
  • BC Ministry of Health
  • Public Health Agency of Canada
  • BCEOHRN Members
  • Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
  • Lung Association
  • Provincial Health Authorities
  • Environment Canada

Funding Sources

Foundations, Institutes, and Societies

Vancouver Foundation

Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement

SickKids Foundation

Heart & Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon

The Physicians’ Services Incorporated Foundation

Canadian Cancer Society

The Arthritis Society

Canadian Lung Association

Federal Government

Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR)

National Science and Engineering Research Council

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI)

Health Canada

Provincial Nongovernmental Organizations

Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR)


Health of Population Networks – Funded by MSFHR until March 31, 2010

BC Environmental & Occupational Health Research Network (BCEOHRN)

Network Environments for Aboriginal Research BC (NEARBC)

Funding for Women in Science

Minerva Foundation

Graduate Women in Science

International Funding

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)


Office of the Vice President - Research

Check your institution’s Office of the Vice President - Research (e.g., at UBC)

When considering where to search for funding, also take a look at who funded the studies you included in your literature review (they are usually given in the acknowledgements).