The Award Lifecycle

Getting Started: Initial (and Key) Considerations and Steps Prior to Writing a Grant Proposal

A successful grant proposal starts with an important question or problem, and an innovative, strategic, and creative idea for solving it.

The project idea should be the next logical step in your career path (a stepping stone to the next milestone), and should answer the next logical question in your specific field of study. Your project idea should represent a contribution to society at large (if you want to get funding to execute it).  Sponsors need to invest their funds wisely, and are seeking projects that will make a difference. To have the best chance of success, you and your idea should be well positioned. The two “Positioning” articles available via the Related Content box at right discuss this strategy in greater detail.

It is also important to consider the logistical needs of your project early in the process, so that you have time to address them. 

What resources will you need to do the project, which of those are already available, and what will you need to request in your budget?  The Facilities Statements and the developing a Budget sections of our site discuss this in greater detail. Will you need to collaborate with other people or institutions for scientific/programmatic or logistical reasons?  Collaboration, especially across disciplines, can add appeal to your proposal from a sponsor perspective, and presents questions to be answered and (sometimes complex) arrangements to be made.  How much time will it take to successfully execute the project?  Most grant funding periods range from a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years.  The answers to these questions may drive, in part, the funding opportunities you seek to support your idea.

Once you have your idea and have determined basic resource needs, you will need to find funding. 

Our Finding Funding section describes the resources available via SPA to support the search for appropriate funding sources. Information on potential sponsors can also be gleaned from talking to colleagues and investigating who funded similar or related work in your field (acknowledgments in conference presentations and journal articles are great sources for this info).  Funding agency strategic plans, research and program goals, budget requests (for federal agencies), and project they have funded within the last three to five years can provide insight into sponsors’ grantmaking priorities. 

It is also important to understand the structure of your key agencies.  Be careful of going too far in trying to make your project idea fit with a funding agency’s priorities. You don’t want to change so much that your project is no longer your project. If possible, establish and maintain a relationship with one or more contacts at your key funding agencies.  Such relationships can provide “insider information” about shifts in agency funding priorities or funding capacity (e.g., budget reductions) before these are announced to the general public. 

Sponsors, in general, make investments in scholars and researchers and their lines of work, and like to be kept informed regarding how that work in progressing.  Some sponsors even consider themselves partners to a limited extent in the work of the project.  In such cases, it may be a good idea to reach out to a sponsor to fill them in on important or exciting developments that occur as the project progresses, in addition to the progress reports that are required throughout the life of a grant award. As a final word--obtain and read the grant program guidelines. If you are not sure your idea matches the sponsor’s priorities as outlined in the funding announcement, contact SPA or an agency Program Officer before starting work!  The RFP or Call for Proposals should indicate the appropriate Program Officer to contact.

Serve on agency review panels.

Reading other proposers’ grant applications and being in the room during review discussions provides a unique perspective, and informs your ability to write to reviewers as an audience. It also provides additional connections to professionals in your field of study.  Check the agency website for requests for reviewers.

Understand how the Division of Research and SPA can support your path forward.

Both SPA and the Division of Research and Innovative Parternships offer support to faculty and staff pursuing external funding.  The links in the Related Content box provide information on that support, as do the other pages on this site.  The earlier you talk with your Research Development Specialist about your idea, the better able we are to support your efforts.