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Writing Winning Grant Proposals: Formulas For Success Mark A. Mirando National Program Leader, National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.

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Presentation on theme: "Writing Winning Grant Proposals: Formulas For Success Mark A. Mirando National Program Leader, National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program."— Presentation transcript:

1 Writing Winning Grant Proposals: Formulas For Success Mark A. Mirando National Program Leader, National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program

2  Background and introduction  Ten things you must do  Developing a timeline for preparing your proposal  Some additional helpful hints  Most common criticisms of proposals Organization

3 Background and Introduction  My perspective on grantsmanship  ideas from experienced colleagues  approaches from successful applicants  Emphasis on information for the novice  a refresher the more experienced  new ideas for old hands  Organized to help proposals that fall into the “gray” area just below the funding line

4  Start with a good idea !  Poor ideas will not be successful regardless of how well they are “packaged”  Good ideas are often not funded because they are not packaged well  For every good idea that is funded, there are others that aren’t – not packaged well  Then improve the packaging ! Background and Introduction

5  Acronyms used in this presentation:  RFA = Request for Applications  RFP = Request for Proposals (same as RFA) Background and Introduction

6 Ten Things You Must Do 1. Find the right program for you and your idea  Main purpose of program (funding priorities) - does your idea fit in mainstream or on the fringe  Find out where abstracts of previously funded projects are..… great source of information  Call the Program Manager to discuss your idea relative to the program priorities

7 Ten Things You Must Do 1. Find the right program for you and your idea  Best approach is to find program in your area and determine program priorities, then develop idea to fit within the program  Don’t waste time applying to the wrong program … square pegs do not fit in round holes  Eligibility restrictions ?

8 Ten Things You Must Do 2. Become a “student” of the RFA  Understand the main goals of the program  Does your idea fit within these goals?  Don’t hesitate to call the Program Manager  Understand the directions outlined in the RFA on how to assemble the proposal

9 Ten Things You Must Do 3. Develop a timeline for proposal preparation  Develop a timeline that will allow for completion of proposal 3 to 4 weeks before submission deadline  If you rush preparation of the proposal, it will show - reviewers will notice and will not be kind

10 Ten Things You Must Do 4. Understand criteria used to evaluate proposals  RFA normally contains the criteria that will be used by reviewers to evaluate your proposal  Understand these criteria BEFORE you begin preparing your proposal  Provides a greater understanding as to where to put the greatest efforts during proposal preparation

11 Ten Things You Must Do 4. Understand criteria used to evaluate proposals  Typically review criteria include:  Scientific merit  Relevance to program priorities  Qualifications of project personnel  Planning and administration of project

12 Ten Things You Must Do 5. Understand the review process and reviewers  Reviewers are provided guidance by the program for evaluating proposals using evaluation criteria in the RFA  Reviewers evaluate each proposal ….. strengths, weakness, qualifications of personnel, probability of success, etc.

13 Ten Things You Must Do 5. Understand the review process and reviewers  Reviewers provide individual scores; when they meet as a group (review panel), they then provide a “group score”  Reviewers are looking for proposals they can champion and those they can dismiss

14 Ten Things You Must Do 5. Understand the review process and reviewers  Each reviewer may be assigned 10 to 25 proposals  Following directions in the RFA helps the reviewers; not following directions makes them work hard  Preparing the proposal logically and clearly helps reviewers; not doing so makes them work hard

15 Ten Things You Must Do 5. Understand the review process and reviewers  To the degree you make a reviewer work hard, the probability of your proposal being funded decreases exponentially !  Work to make reviewers champion your proposal

16 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Most important section of the entire proposal is the Project Summary or Abstract  Summary captures the essence of your proposal – must be clear, concise, well articulated and logical  Typically the only section that every reviewer reads

17 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Organize proposal according to outline in RFA or review evaluation criteria, whichever is most logical  Following the prescribed format makes reviewers happy and more generous  Making reviewers work hard hurts you

18 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Background establishes the need for the project - project is important and interesting  The need can be readily identified with the priorities of the program ….. make sure you say it in the proposal !

19 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Overarching hypothesis (or goal)  Specific aims or objectives that test the hypothesis  Methodologies with associated timelines  Expected outcomes and impacts

20 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Reviewers must be convinced that:  Goals reflect major priorities of the program  If objectives are accomplished, you will attain goals  If methodology is followed, objectives will be attained  Expected results are directly related to overall goals and priorities of the program

21 Ten Things You Must Do 6. Write the proposal logically and clearly  Reviewers must be convinced that:  The proposed evaluation plan will keep you on track to successful completion of the project  The probability of success is acceptable  That the proposal NEEDS to be FUNDED

22 Ten Things You Must Do 7.Prepare budget with a strong justification  Use timeline to compute amount of time personnel will spend carrying out each portion of the project  Unreasonable budgets hurt proposals - they create skeptics within reviewer ranks  Keep budgets within guidelines in the RFA - they are judged on the degree of reasonableness

23 8.Obtain critical input from experienced and successful colleagues  One who has significant expertise in the topic area  Another who has only passing familiarity (or less) with the subject matter  A third who is an excellent writer Ten Things You Must Do

24 8.Obtain critical input from experienced and successful colleagues …. someone  Who talks frankly, bluntly and clearly - do not want someone who beats around the bush  Who has little sympathy for your ego  Who is smart and crafty  Who has success in obtaining grants Ten Things You Must Do

25 9. Fill out forms completely and correctly 9. Fill out forms completely and correctly 10.Allow time for intramural administrative requirements - send to arrive on time  A deadline is a deadline is a deadline !

26 Developing a Timeline for Proposal Preparation  1.5 – 1 year before deadline:  Discuss ideas with others  Complete current experiments and publish results to show:  Productivity  Ability to take a project from an idea to published completion

27 Developing a Timeline for Proposal Preparation  months before deadline:  Generate preliminary data  months before deadline:  Create initial draft of proposal  months before deadline:  Obtain comments from colleagues, revise accordingly

28 Developing a Timeline for Proposal Preparation  months before deadline:  Prepare budget and “non-science” parts  1 month before deadline:  Have draft of “final version”  Obtain additional comments from colleagues on the “whole package”

29  weeks before deadline:  Final version proofreading (by someone who has not seen it before) and then proofread again !  days before deadline:  Make necessary copies of all parts (figures, etc. )  Obtain required signatures  days before deadline:  Submit proposal Developing a Timeline for Proposal Preparation

30 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Importance and relevance:  Related to an important agricultural problem or to human health and well being ?  Related to significant deficit in our knowledge of important biological process ?  Relevant to program priorities ?

31 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Develop an overarching hypothesis:  A testable idea or notion  Basic premise for the proposal  Once formed and focused, it should drive the rest of the proposal  Bigger than the specific aims or objectives

32 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Hypothesis:  Not in the form of a question  Hypothesis should be repeated  Abstract, Background, Specific Aims  Stated exactly the same way throughout  Same applies for Specific Aims

33 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Specific aims:  Compelling  Clearly hypothesis-driven  Not names of experiments

34 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Avoid using terms indicating ‘description’:  “correlate”  “describe”  “assess”  “measure”  Avoid passive voice, flowery terms, wishy- washy terms

35 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Each section of the proposal linked to each other:  Rationale for each study linked to an aspect of hypothesis  Potential outcomes of experiments linked to proving or disproving the hypothesis

36 Some Additional Helpful Hints  High probability of success:  Focused  Not a fishing expedition  Feasible  Solid preliminary data  Letters from experts expressing support and willingness to help

37 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Significance:  Not a mystery novel - deliver message fast  Proposed studies yield information that is unique; other approaches do not work as well  Relevant to the ‘big picture’  Key to convincing reviewers to support your proposal rather than that of your competition

38 Some Additional Helpful Hints  Make the proposal textbook quality:  avoid typographical, grammatical, spelling errors  use large font, make it easy to read  include sub-headings, include lots of spacing  use high quality figures  Minimize “author-defined” acronyms

39  Provide sufficient detail for evaluation  Present pitfalls, provide alternative solutions  Don’t pad the budget, keep it lean but adequate Some Additional Helpful Hints

40  The one-page Project Summary or Abstract should be a work of art !  Clarity is everything !  Proofread, Proofread, Proofread !  Electronic spell-checkers won’t catch everything ! Some Additional Helpful Hints

41 Most Common Criticisms  Poorly written  Not well justified  scientific problem  experimental model  relevance to program priorities or purpose  Lacks convincing preliminary data

42  No hypothesis or poorly presented  Not hypothesis-driven, studies are descriptive  Objectives don’t address hypothesis  Objectives lack focus, too diffuse Most Common Criticisms

43  Approaches and methods lack detail needed to evaluate potential for success  Investigator lacks expertise with given approach  Expected results not presented, interpreted  Pitfalls not addressed, alternative solutions not presented Most Common Criticisms

44  Overly ambitious, too much or too difficult to accomplish in reasonable time-frame  Time-line unrealistic for successful completion of proposed project  Resubmitted proposal did not address concerns identified during previous review Most Common Criticisms

45 What to Do if You Have Questions ? Contact the Program Staff ! ! !

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