Grant writing - how to write successful grant proposals

Grant writing is as central to a scientific career. Careful targeting of a funder and preparation of a proposal can determine success. You can increase your chances of positive reviews and obtaining funding when you know how to navigate and compose grant proposals.

An illustrative image for a webinar on ‘Generative AI in Student Writing’, featuring symbols of AI and writing
Photo: Bing Chat/Dall-E.

Common mistakes:

  • overambitious research plans
  • incoherent or unfocused experimental designs
  • poor write-up and presentation of the proposed study

The best way to learn about a successful proposal:

  • practice to write 
  • read grant applications that were funded
  • learn how they are structured, how much detail to include, and which ideas sold

All KI researchers need to apply for external funding in order to carry out their research. 

Know the funding agency

  • Does your research fit the call?
  • Are you eligible?
  • Will the agency fund what you want to do?
  • Does the agency fund overheads or stipends?
    • Can you afford to apply?
    • Is co-funding needed?

What does the agency WANT to fund?

  • Mission Statement
  • What have they funded before?
  • Who have they funded before?
    • Is there a database for this?
  • Political motives? Strategy statements?
  • Tailor the proposal to each funder

Find the funding agency’s policy/mission statement:
What aspects of your research would you need to highlight to succeed?

List of previous recipients:
Do they have similar backgrounds to you?

Funders' guidelines

Follow them:

  • Funding opportunity guidelines
  • Formatting guidelines

Large calls can have two or three documents to follow. Make sure you understand which one has preference.

Find the guidelines for your funding opportunity

  • Download them
  • Have you found:
    • Eligibility criteria; formatting requirements (is there a template?); content guidelines

Write with the reader in mind.

Word choice and location, sentence structure and location, as well as paragraph structure and location are all important, but location is the most important.

Principles for grants writing:

  • Obtain and strictly follow the proposal guidelines
  • Make sure the first page is perfect
  • State the objective of your proposal precisely
  • Indicate what is unknown or problematic
  • Be realistic when listing aims 
  • Do not make aims too interdependent
  • State the significance of the study 
  • Provide pertinent background information
  • Summarize and generalize relevant previous results relevant to the topic
  • State expected outcomes clearly 
  • Demonstrate your expertise and that of your colleagues
  • Your approach section should be about twice the length of your background and preliminary results
  • End with an impact section
  • Convey confidence