The confidential nature of research grants poses a challenge for new writers and researchers who are unfamiliar with grant proposals. The best way to learn how to write grants—by far—is to start writing grants as part of a team with experienced grant writers. This allows one to learn while doing under the tutelage of those who have honed their skills writing proposals for a variety of projects and funders. And, as I have said before, serving as a peer reviewer should be a required experience for every writer of grants.
For those unable to enter grant writing through these tried and true avenues, or for grant writers seeking to better understand what a funder’s “ideal” proposal looks like, sample grant proposals can prove quite valuable…and extremely hard to come by. For obvious reasons, these proposals are confidential. Getting a mentor or a colleague to share a proposal can seem a major victory, until you start asking yourself some key questions: Was this project funded? What were reviewers’ comments? What worked (and is worthy of emulation), and what did not? How old is this thing?
For all of these reasons and more, vetted samples of funded proposals can be invaluable to new writers of grants. Fortunately, some researchers share their funded proposals via funders’ web sites. After all, funders want applicants to understand what they are looking for so they can receive high-quality proposals.
The challenge for these funders can be keeping the samples current enough so that the grantsmanship they are trying to highlight and promote is not overshadowed by the lack of currency of the applications. This was becoming the case with the incredibly useful (but increasingly dated) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) web site, which has a lot of useful grantsmanship information in addition to its sample applications. The collection of sample applications was recently updated and expanded, so it now has over two dozen sample applications representative of multiple mechanisms (R, SBIR/STTR Rs, F, and K), in addition to sample forms, plans, letters, emails, etc. for the NIH and NIAID. One great thing about the NIAID samples is that the summary statements are available for many of the sample applications as well, so you can read reviewers’ comments to the application and judge for yourself what about the application worked (and might be worth emulating) and what didn’t.
New sample applications have also been posted at two National Cancer Institute (NCI) sites. At the end of April, the NCI posted new samples of funded cancer epidemiology grant applications, and in February the Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, NCI updated their collection as well.
So, if you are new to grant writing and could benefit from a sample grant application to use as a model, check out the new samples at the links above or peruse the sites of other funders with which you are familiar for samples specific to them. But, even if your specialty does not align with any of the specialties of the funders posting samples, it is still worth your time to look through the samples. There are differences between applications in various specialties, and it is true that funders have different guidelines, review criteria, and approaches, but the key elements of good grantsmanship remain the same. And if you are a seasoned writer, it doesn’t hurt to see what others are doing well and maybe refresh your own toolbox.
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This article appeared in the May issue of our newsletter, Strategic Grantsmanship News. The newsletter is distributed monthly to subscribers to the Strategic Grantsmanship mailing list. If you like what you see and would like to learn more about how to win more grants in less time, then subscribe to the Strategic Grantsmanship Mailing List.