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How to Write Grants. Version 2009. Read the solicitation carefully and paste the most important points into a mindmap .

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How to Write Grants

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Read the solicitation carefully and paste the most important points into a mindmap.

Pay attention to estimated budget size, duration (how many years), and what the $ can be used for. Some grants have restrictions- like hardware only, or students only, or staff only.

Use budget to constrain how much you can do. Don’t forget overhead (indirect) costs.

Pay attention to grant format guidelines. You can’t just invent your own. You grant will get rejected immediately.

Your proposal is generally first submitted to the university for approval before uploading to the grant agency’s web site for submission. This takes time so a grant needs to be done preferably a week before the due date.

body of the proposal
Body of the Proposal

1-page project summary

Introduction (introduce the problem and the approach)

State of the Art (describe how your work is different)

Proposed Work (describe what are the research questions and how you will address them)

Prior Funded Work that is relevant to current grant

Project timeline (show a management plan)

Intellectual Merit

Broader Impact




Current & Pending Grants

Letters of Support

the review process
The Review Process

Reviewers often have a dozen proposals to review. So when you write a proposal, organize it so that you HELP the reviewer get through it as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

Most reviewers skim proposals. There is simply too much detail to read and too little time. Jamming more detail into it just frustrates them.

Reviewers are not always experts in the area so you need to be able to appeal to multiple audiences.

Reviewers generally meet in a one or two day meeting to discuss the proposals and to rank them.

For NSF they categorize proposals as: Highly Competitive, Competitive and Non Competitive.

Reviewers give you reviews that are: Excellent, V. Good, Good, Fair and Poor.

To get funded you need Excellents and V. Good.

review criteria for nsf
Review criteria for NSF

Intellectual Merit

How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team) to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior work.) To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?

Broader Impact

How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?

when you get the grant
When You Get The Grant

NSF usually cuts your budget and asks you to come up with a new scope of work.

Each year NSF expects a report 3 months before the next year of the project.

Only after you have filed the report and it has been approved will you get the next year of funds.

Exceptions are with hardware grants which typically give you money all at once.

You may be expected to give presentations at NSF workshops.

If your grant is very big you will likely get a site visit.

In addition to working diligently on the research you need to aggressively publicize it (demos at conferences, papers, press releases).

This enables NSF to show Congress that they are getting their money’s worth.

success is often determined by
Success is often determined by
  • Technical merit & Broad Impact (as above)
  • Politics
    • What are major US priorities? Water, Energy, Jobs, etc.
    • What are major NSF priorities?
    • What are hot topics today?
    • Sometimes you need to run workshops and produce workshop reports to demonstrate to NSF that there is an important problem that needs to be addressed before you can write a proposal for it.