Humanity needs scientific research and scientists need funding to conduct research. Applying for funding includes writing a grant proposal which differs from a study protocol or a manuscript submitted for publication.
In this article, we will address the common errors that lead to a rejected proposal. This will help grantees in preparing a successful proposal and secure the fund required to conduct research and create valid relevant knowledge.
Failure to follow the guidelines for submitting the grant proposal
Grantors have guidelines and many grantors will return proposals without review, simply because the guidelines were not strictly followed. Grantees may lose a grant competition because the margins on your proposal were a quarter-inch too wide or a mandatory section was missing. Researchers must become students of the Request for Application to ensure their applications do not stop at this stage. Most importantly, before they even open a proposal, they expect it to be submitted on time.
If the team of researchers cannot follow “simple instructions” in a “timely” manner, how can those researchers be trusted to complete their project as stated?
Poorly written proposals
Proposals that make the reviewers question the author’s credibility as a researcher are fatal. Poorly written proposals, including grammar, spelling or factual errors, can detract from your idea. Ideally you can have your proposal professionally reviewed and edited. Make sure all your facts and figures are correct.
Research issue not important enough
The problem to be researched is not important enough. Just because a group wants to research or test a certain hypothesis does not mean that an organization will find it important enough to fund. Grantors would reject a proposal because they do not believe that any new knowledge will be created as a result.
The focus of the proposal is too narrow or too broad.
The grantor may feel that the focus of the grant is not broad enough to make a significant, measurable impact. In other words, it does not touch enough lives to really make a difference.
On the other hand, we would all like to change the world by completely eliminating a major problem for example maternal mortality. However, these types of goals are far too unrealistic to be either reasonable or practical and the grantors know that funds would be much better utilized elsewhere.
Unrealistic expectations for resources
Some research proposal rejection is based upon the requirements for personnel and equipment. Applicants for a grant will often give unrealistic expectations for resources. This can have an impact on cost.
Grantors want to know that their funds are being distributed to credible, worthy organizations that take their responsibilities seriously and operate with high levels of integrity. Grantors want to know that grantees have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to accomplish the goals as stated in their grant proposals. They expect them to have adequate support personnel to operationalize the plans as set forth in their proposals. Many times, the backgrounds of the personnel that will work on the project comes into question. If an applicant will be using student volunteers, for example, in a certain complex process, that may be a red flag for the research proposal being accepted.
Vague objectives and flawed methods
The statement of your research objective should lead directly to methodology. If it does not, you don’t have a clear statement of your research objective.
Achieving the aims of the project depends on the methodology. Grantees should clearly describe how the project will unfold, and the practical steps of conducting the research. Success also depends on the project being reproducible. With the wave of rescinded grants and questionable research results making their way into mainstream news, accountability and transparency are the cornerstones of a successful grant proposal.
Grantors simply want to know that grantees have adequate systems to accurately measure the outcomes of the funded project. The methods of evaluation need to be clear. Grantors need a clear answer to an important question: How would the researchers show that the goals were or were not accomplished, as stated in the proposal? If these methods of evaluation are too vague or do not clearly measure what is expected as a result, the grant application will most likely be rejected.
The Three Cs rule of Thumb: a grant proposal must be Concise, Clear, and Complete
No long-term plan included
Grants exist to help you get started. Grantees should prepare a long-term financial outline and include a strategic plan of the next five years in the proposal. Don’t over-rely on grant funding. Grantors will be much more likely to hand out money to someone who has a long term plan for sustainability.
As I have been in the shoes of both the grantor and the grantee, I know a successful grant proposal is not mission impossible. Grantors and Grantees can live happily ever after with a win-win situation. It is all about rules, accountability, and transparency.