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May 17 2016

How to Get Feedback on your Draft Grant Application

GFW Blog post two

I can give feedback on a project grant application within 24 hours. Sometimes a lot quicker
than that. To get the most out of me, there are three things you should do.

• Get the structure of the case for support right.

• Match the summary to the case for support.

• Use the Funding development team to check your proposal and send it to me.

This blog post explains how to do the writing. If you find it hard to follow the post, maybe you
should come to some of the workshops.

Why you have to get the structure of the case for support right.

Getting the structure of the case for support – the main narrative of the grant application –
right, and matching it to the summary are crucial because by doing those two things you can solve
the main problem that all grant applications face.

A case for support has two main tasks. It has to convince the committee that your research project
is important. And it has to convince them that your project will be successful. These tasks are not
the main problem.

The case for support also has to do several minor tasks. It has to make the grants committee think
that they understand your project. It has to convince them that you are competent to carry out the
project. And it has to convince them that the resources you will buy with the grant are necessary
and sufficient to carry out the project. These tasks are not the main problem either.

The main problem is that most members of the grants committee will not read the case for support.
They won’t read it because they are too busy. They won’t read it because they don’t really
understand your research. Despite this, the case for support has to convince them that your
research project is important, it has to convince them that your project will be successful, it has
to tell them how the project will achieve its outcome, how competent you are, and how important are
the resources you will buy with the grant. It has to do all this without them actually reading the
case for support.  That is the main problem.

There is a solution to the problem. All the committee will read the summary. They will speed-read
the case for support. So if you give the case for support a structure that makes it easy to
speed-read, and if you match it with a summary that ’primes’ them by telling them the main points
that they will speed read, in the same words, then you can solve the problem. This begs the
question, what is the perfect structure?

The perfect structure.

As I said, the case for support has two tasks. First it has to convince the reader that your
project is important. Then it has to convince them it will be successful.

Main Structure: Introduction, Background and Methodology.

The most efficient way to do these tasks is to divide the case for support into three sections. To
do the tasks you need a background section, which makes the case that the project is important, and
a methodology section, which describes the project and convinces the reader that it will be
successful. You need to precede the background and methodology sections with an introduction, which
increases their effectiveness by ’trailing’ the main points they make.

The names you give the three sections don’t matter. Indeed they will probably depend on the
funders’ instructions. What does matter is that you have a background section that describes the
state of the art in such a way that it is completely clear that the outcome of  your project will be really
important, a methodology section that makes it clear that your project will successfully deliver the outcome,
and an introduction. The fine structure of these sections helps the reader understand in detail how your
research project will produce exactly the outcome that your background section explains is important.

Local Structure: 3 aims in background delivered by 3 objectives in methodology.

The best way to help the reader is to break your project down into three components, each of which
will produce a clear outcome. If it suits you, or if the funder asks you to state aims and
objectives, you can call the three components of the project the objectives, and you can call the
three outcomes they will achieve the aims.

Breaking the overall research outcome into components like this makes it much easier for the
committee to discuss it and analyse it, and it also makes it much easier for you to write the
background in a way that makes it clear that your project is really important. If the background
convinces the reader that the aims are really important then the project automatically becomes
important because it achieves the aims.

Three aims and three objectives is the perfect number. If you have too few aims or objectives it
becomes hard to describe them concisely. If you have too many, it becomes hard to remember the
list. And if you have different numbers of aims and objectives then you cannot match aims and
objectives.

Because each objective delivers exactly one aim it is easy to write the background so that it
convinces the reader that each aim is really important. It also makes it easy for the reader to
remember the list of aims and to see that by carrying out the objectives you will achieve the aims.

The background and the methodology sections have five subsections each. Three of each set of five
are used to link the two sections together, so that the background convinces the reader that every
component of the project is important. The remaining subsections have different jobs, linking to
the literature that justifies the project, summarising the project and disseminating the results.

• Both sections have three subsections in the core that link the two sections together.
The background has three subsections that explain the importance of the aims. Each one of these
prepares the reader for the subsection in the methodology section that describes the corresponding
objective.

• The background starts with two subsections. The first explains the project outcome.
The second gives the  evidence that  the  project  outcome is  important. These  two subsections
are essential preparation for the core subsections that explain how important the aims are. The
aims are important mainly because they deliver the overall project outcome.

• The methodology section starts with an overview of the project, which leads into the three
subsections describing the objectives. It finishes with a subsection describing the dissemination
plans.

Fine Structure: Key sentence followed by justification.

Each of these ten subsections has the same structure.  It begins with a single sentence that
summarises the subsection. These are the ’key sentences’ that are the skeleton of the case for
support. The rest of the subsection fleshes out the key sentence, supporting it in such a way that
the reader believes that it is true. For key sentences in the background, the ’flesh’ will consist
of evidence from the literature. For key sentences in the methodology section the ’flesh’ consists
of details about what will be done in the project.

You can read more about the key sentences in these threeblog posts.

The Introduction

The first draft of the introduction can be done by copying and pasting the key sentences. You may
find it necessary to add some linking and signposting, so that they flow together well. Because the
key sentences make a good introduction, you can leave the introduction until after you have written
the background and methodology sections. This post describes the  introduction.

The perfectly matched summary

The summary must be perfectly matched to the case for support. This will cause anyone (most of the
committee) who reads the summary and then glances through the case for support to feel that they
understand the case for support completely. The key sentences make a perfect summary. This post
discusses the summary.

How to get feedback

If you want to get feedback on a draft that is written this way, please highlight the key sentences
within the case for support and send it to the Research Office. They will forward it to me.
If you want to get feedback on a draft that is not written this way. This post is that feedback.

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