You are here: AU  Staff  Staff Service Research support and collaboration Research Support Office Advice and tools for your grant proposal

Advice and tools for your grant proposal

Help with your proposal

Do you need to apply for funding for your research?

In this brochure, we have collected some useful tips on how to write an effective grant proposal. For example, you will find tips on writing a project description and tools to present your CV and budget clearly and understandably.

Find foundations

Our foundation database www.researchfunding.net can help you find foundations that are relevant for your project.

Getting started

  • Create a profile in the foundation database{2>ResearchFunding.Net.: www.researchfunding.net/
  • Search for relevant foundations using the database’s search functions.
  • For each foundation you are interested in, check whether you are eligible to submit a proposal, and whether the foundation grants money to the kinds of costs involved in your project.
  • Find out what the requirements are for the structure of your proposal as well as any other requirements and guidelines that apply for the foundation in question.

About ResearchFunding.net

  • Contains ~800 different Danish and international foundations within all fields of research.
  • Contains information about foundations’/funders’ focus areas, objectives, deadlines, application procedures, etc.
  • Gives you the option of subscribing to news updates about foundations that are relevant to your area of interest.
  • Gives you the option of receiving a reminder when the deadline for a particular foundation is coming up (60 days before the deadline).

The proposal - an overview

A proposal is typically comprised of the following elements/documents:

  • Application form or cover letter
  • Proposal summary
  • Project description
  • Lay summary
  • CV
  • List of publications
  • Budget
  • Any offers on equipment
  • Any statements/declarations of support

 The guidelines for the structure and contents of a proposal vary from foundation to foundation. For this reason, you should always check precisely which documents should be included in the proposal you submit to a particular fund.

Cover letter template
If you are not required to include an application form, you can include a cover letter instead. A cover letter should not exceed one page in length. A detailed description of the project should be included in the project description instead.

You will find a sample cover letter here.

The proposal summary

The project summary is a concise summary of the most important points in the project description and should be able to function as an extremely brief independent presentation of the project.

Polish your summary – sell your product
In terms of content, the project summary is similar to the lay summary. The major difference is that the target audience of the project summary is not a lay audience. Using scientific/technical terminology is therefore acceptable in the project summary. Nonetheless, you should investigate who will be evaluating your proposal, and you should ensure that the language of your summary is tailored to this particular audience.

Many evaluators read summaries (or the lay summaries) first, using them as a tool to roughly identify

  • which projects are eligible for support by the foundation
  • which projects sound particularly interesting.

For this reason, it is absolutely essential that you describe your project clearly, concisely and not least persuasively. In short, you must try to ‘sell’ your project. If you are in a position to quantify how your results will make a difference, this is often an easily understood and convincing sales argument.

Examples of measurable effects:

  • Optimising processes in a way that allows a company to save time or money
  • Increasing patients’ chances of surviving a serious disease
  • Reducing pesticide use.

Not all projects aim to produce quantifiable results. In such cases, you should explain what effect your project will have on society. If your project has no direct effect on society, explain what secondary or derived effects it might have.

Examples of derived effects:

  • Paving the way for the development of new research projects
  • Removing bottlenecks from research processes
  • Laying a theoretical foundation for later practical applications of your results¨.

Answer five questions
The project summary should answer these questions:

  • What is the objective of the project? (This is an excellent place to present your hypothesis/research idea).
  • Why are you particularly qualified to carry out the project?
  • Why is it important to carry out the project now (and not in five years, for example)?
  • How will you solve your problem/test your hypothesis?
  • What results will the project deliver, and what effects will those results have? (Perspectives).

The formalities
Always follow the foundation's instructions regarding the length of the summary. If clear instructions are not available, you should limit your summary to a maximum length of half a page.

The project description

The project description must describe the objectives, perspectives, background, method and scope of the project. It must also explain why you are the right researcher carry out the project, why it should be carried out now, and why your method is the best one to address the problem addressed by the project

Remember who your audience is
Always keep the identity of your target audience in mind

  • Who will be evaluating your proposal? (Laypersons, researchers, experts?)
  • What does the evaluator already know about your field?
  • What does the evaluator need to know in order to understand and evaluate your project?
  • How can you convince the evaluator that your project should be awarded funding?

Always investigate who is on the grant committee and adapt the language of your project description to this specific audience. You should also familiarise yourself thoroughly with the foundation’s objectives and any publically available evaluation criteria. Use this information to tailor your project description to the specific foundation.

Structure your project description
Always follow the foundation’s guidelines for structuring the project description.

If the foundation does not have specific formal requirements for the proposal, we recommend that you structure your proposal as follows:

The Laysummary

The lay summary is a simple, easy-to-understand description of your project. The description must be understandable to laypersons and suitable for publication.

Write so that everyone can understand you – and sell your project
Many foundations use the lay summary as a tool for roughly sorting which proposals fall within the scope of the foundation and which should be considered for funding. At some foundations, your project will never be evaluated by an expert, but solely on the basis of your lay summary. For this reason, it’s important that you explain your project clearly, and that you omit scientific terminology and abbreviations.  

Imagine that you are writing for a daily newspaper, and remember that your goal is to ‘sell’ your project. If you are in a position to quantify how your results will make a difference, this is often an easily understood and convincing sales argument.

Examples of measurable effects:

  • Optimising processes in a way that allows a company to save time or money
  • Increasing patients’ chances of surviving a serious disease
  • Reducing pesticide use.

Not all projects aim to produce quantifiable results. In such cases, you should explain what effect your project will have on society. If your project has no direct effect on society, explain what secondary or derived effects it might have.

Examples of derived effects:

  • Paving the way for the development of new research projects
  • Removing bottlenecks from research processes
  • Laying a theoretical foundation for later practical applications of your results.

Answer five questions
The project summary should answer these questions:

  • What is the objective of the project? (This is an excellent place to present your hypothesis/research idea).
  • Why are you particularly qualified to carry out the project?
  • Why is it important to carry out the project now (and not in five years, for example)?
  • How will you solve your problem/test your hypothesis?
  • What results will the project deliver, and what effects will those results have? (Perspectives).


The formalities
Always follow the foundation's instructions regarding the length of the summary. If clear instructions are not available, you should limit your summary to a maximum length of ½-1 page. If the lay summary is the only document you are submitting, it may be 1½-2 pages in length.

The CV

The function of your CV is to illustrate that you have the right academic and managerial competencies to carry out the specific project. In other words, it should convince the evaluator that you are qualified to carry out the project.

Obviously, if you are at the beginning of your research career, you can’t be expected to possess all of the competencies and qualifications you would expect to find in an ideal CV.

Use our CV template to organise your CV
Your CV should be concise and easy to follow. Many larger foundations have guidelines for how applicants’ CVs are to be presented. You can use our CV template if you are applying to foundations that don’t have specific formal requirements for the CV.        

General advice on your CV

  • Use bullet points. They make the text appear accessible.
  • Present your CV in reverse chronological order. Often your most recently acquired qualifications are the most relevant to the proposal.
  • Prioritise what information is important to include in the CV.You should not send an exhaustive CV. Instead, you should select the information that is relevant to your proposal and the project you propose.

The CV template
You can use our CV template to help you structure your CV if you are applying to foundations that don’t have specific formal requirements for the CV.

You can find the template here.

Bibliometrics

The Research Support Office’s research librarian can provide you with an individual bibliometric analysis which you can use when writing proposals. The individual analysis is carried out based on an updated list of publications and mainly in cases where researchers have some research experience.

The analysis may include:

  • Calculation of the total number of citations with or without self-citations
  • Calculation of H-index
  • Calculation of research impact within specific fields
  • Illustration of citation and publication flow
  • Illustration of cooperative relations.

 

The content of the bibliometric analysis can for example be used for:

  • Implementation of bibliometric data in the proposal
  • Evaluation and benchmarking in relation to other researchers within the specific field
  • Selection of the publications which are particularly relevant to emphasise in the proposal.

 

If you are working on a proposal and are interested in a bibliometric analysis, please contact our librarian Pernille Hamburger Grøngaard, phg@au.dk or one of the Research Support Office’s fundraisers.

The list of publications

The list of publications may only contain works that have been published or accepted for publication.

We recommend that you organise your publications in terms of the following categories:

  • Peer-reviewed publications (include all authors as far as possible, year, title, place of publication, volume number as well as first and last page number or article number and number of pages):

1. Articles
2. Monographs
3. Proceedings with a referee
4. Book chapters

  • Non-peer-reviewed publications, such as monographs, book chapters and the like, and articles (include all authors as far as possible, year, title, place of publication, volume number as well as first and last page number or article number and number of pages)
  • Patent references for patents applied for and granted with relevance to your research.

These recommendations are derived from the Danish Council for Independent Research autumn 2015 and spring 2016 calls for applications.

Additional tips on the list of publications

  • Mark your name clearly in the list of publications (for example, in bold). Evaluators want to get a quick overview of where your name is listed in the list of authors for the individual publications.
  • Consider highlighting the title of the work and/or the journal if you wish to emphasise the topic of the work and/or the place of publication.
  • Indicate the journal’s impact factor if you wish to draw attention to the fact that you have published in a particularly prestigious journal.
  • Consider including a short description of your role in the work and the significance it has had under each publication.

If you include your H index, other indexes or citation rates, you must provide information on how you have calculated it/them.

The budget

Your budget should be as realistic as possible. For this reason, all of the costs that are relevant to your project should be included in the budget. This signals that your project is well-designed and gives a good impression of you as an applicant.

Typical costs
The budget is typically divided into:

  • Academic staff salaries (VIP)
  • Technical/administrative staff salaries (TAP)
  • Apparatus/equipment
  • Operations (the direct costs of operating the project/project-related costs)
  • Overhead (indirect operations, see below).

As a rule, you must itemise VIP and TAP salaried at the level of the individual project team member, and you must itemise operations in concrete budget items (materials, tuition fees, stays abroad, conference participation, publication/communication).

The definition of ‘equipment’ can vary from foundation to foundation. For example, the Danish Council for Independent Research requires equipment costing less than DKK 500.000 to be itemised as an operating expense.

Getting started
Larger foundations often have an application form you need to use. At www.au.dk/fse, you’ll find examples of budget forms you can use when applying to foundations that don’t have specific formal requirements for budgets.

It is important to make sure that there is a correlation between your budget and the project schedule. For example, if your schedule shows that you intend to work abroad in 2018, costs related to your trip should be included in the budget for the year 2018.

Salaries
As far as possible, you should use actual labour costs in your budget. Remember to take annual pay increases and any promotions into account. Financial Control at Aarhus University recommends that salaries be adjusted upwards by 2 per cent annual in budgets in order to take future pay increases into account.

  • Are you applying for salary funding for a person currently employed at Aarhus University?
    If so, you can get information about payroll costs at the Research Support Unit, Grant Proposals.
  • Are you applying for salary funding for an unidentified person who will be employed at Aarhus University? We recommend that you use the average payroll costs for the position in question. For unidentified persons at Health,AU you schould use the specially calculated average payroll costs for Health as the salaries here are generally at a higher level than at the other faculties.

Please also note that special rules apply to applications for payroll costs for PhD students employed at the Faculty of Health at AU. You will find the rules on the website of the graduate school at Health.

Budgeting tools
Here you will find:

 

Remember overhead
Remember to include overhead in the budget if the foundation permits.

Overhead (sometimes called administrative contribution) is a term for the indirect costs connected with completing your project. Examples might be rent, heat, electricity, office supplies, phone bills, administration etc.

Overhead is calculated as a percentage of the project’s direct costs (for example, payroll, materials, tuition fees, stays abroad, conference participation and publication/communication). The percentage varies from foundation to foundation, and can also depend on the institution that is to administer the grant. Always use the percentage indicated in the foundations call for proposals. Many private foundations do not fund overhead.

Danish government foundations/grantmakers like the Danish Council for Independent Research provide 44 per cent in overhead to the Danish universities.

Example:
You apply for a grant of DKK 100,000 for operations specified in three budget items (rat experiments: DKK 50,000; biochemical analyses: DKK 35,000; publication: DKK 15,000). According to its guidelines, the foundation provides 44 per cent in overhead.

This results in the following calculation:

Rat experiments             DKK 50,000

Biochemical analyses       DKK 35,000

Publication                      DKK 15,000

Total direct costs:            DKK 100,000

Overhead (44%)              DKK 44,000

Total amount applied for: DKK 144,000

Remember co-financing
Is co-financing a requirement?

Some foundations require a certain degree of co-financing before they will grant money to a project. So it’s important to include co-financing in your budget.

Co-financing refers to your home institution’s financial contribution to the project. It will often contribute to:       

  • payroll funds for the project’s VIP and TAP
  • operation and maintenance of equipment
  • facilities
  • software licenses.

Tips on language

You can accomodate your reader by making sure that your text is clearly written and that your message is precise. This is important, because evaluators read a lot of proposals.

Get rid of convoluted language
Avoid:

  • Complex words and long sentences
  • Esoteric language and jargon
  • Long subordinate clauses in parentheses
  • Filler words and imprecision: far too long (how long is that?), to a reasonable extent (what exactly is reasonable?), as far as possible (who decides what is possible?), many, several, a large number of (how many is that?)

Make your text relevant
You are asking the evaluator to grant you money. So it’s important that he or she can identify with your project. To make this happen, you need to use words that create closeness rather than distance. Passive langauge and esoteric language create distance, while active language makes the text more personal an approachable.

Examples:

  • Passive language:
    ‘The samples will then be analysed...’ is a passive construction that distances the reader. There is no subject performing the action.
  • Active language:
    ‘Next, I/we analyse the samples...’ draws the reader into the text: there is no doubt about the subject of the action.     

Move along in the text
The evaluator is busy, and wants to move along in the text as quickly as possible. Avoid using word or expressions that slow your reader down.

Examples:

  • Demonstrative pronouns:
    Demonstrative pronouns such as 'this', 'that' and 'these' are often superfluous and make your language ponderous. These pronouns lead the reader backwards in the text instead of forwards.
  • Abbreviations:
    When you evaluator encounters an abbreviation, he or she must spend time decoding it before continuing in the text. You may economise on letters, but you put brakes on your reader’s progress – which may become a source of irritation.

Additional tips

  • Avoid long passages of text without line breaks/paragraphing.
  • Divide longer sections into subsections with descriptive headings.

Remember that the evaluator reads a lot of proposals, so it’s important that your text is clear and easy to understand. It’s a good idea to get a second person to read your proposal before you submit it.  

Useful link

www.ordbogen.com

 

 

1423576 / i40