May 17 2016

Take One Medium Sized Project

GFW Blog post one

In this series of blog posts I want to create a clear, step-by-step recipe that anybody can use to write a research-grant application. I am focusing particularly on project-grants or fellowships. A project grant is a grant to provide resources needed to carry out a defined research project. A fellowship is a project-grant in which a major component of the grant is support for an individual researcher, the fellow, who will usually lead the project. The most important ingredient of a project-grant application is the project.

You shouldn’t try to start writing until you have sketched out a suitable project and identified a funder. If your project is suitable it will pass the following tests:-

  • The project will have a clear outcome that meets one or more of the funder’s priorities. If you have trouble identifying the funder’s priorities, check this post.
  • The project will meet all the structural requirements of the particular funding scheme you have chosen.
  • The project cost will be within the limits of the funding scheme you have chosen and no more than 3 times the size of the biggest funded project you have completed in the last 3 years. If it is your first funded project, or your first for a few years, get advice from the research office about whether it is too big. You can work out the size either as the FEC cost to the nearest £100K or you can multiply the number of full-time salaries paid by the project by the number of years. Count a fully-funded research student as half a salary.
  • The project will consist of about three sub-projects, each of which has an outcome that can be stated in no more than about 20 words and that contributes to the overall outcome. If you haven’t divided your project into sub-projects, do it now. Divide it into three roughly equal parts, each of which produces an outcome.
  • None of the sub-projects will depend on starting conditions – such as a particular outcome from an earlier sub-project – that might not happen.

If your project is suitable and passes all these tests, you can create an outline. Outlining is the process of recording all the information that you need to include in the case for support as you write it. It should take you no more than three or four hours to create an outline and it can save you weeks. You can also use the outlining process to generate extra sub-projects or to modify existing sub-projects so that you can repair a project that has failed one or more of the tests described above.

The outline consists of five lists, which you compile sub-project by sub-project. Focusing on sub-projects allows you to create new projects by combining different groups of sub-projects, or to use existing sub-projects as models to create new ones. For example, imagine a psychology research project to analyse how arithmetic skills develop in young children. It might consist of a series of discrete sub-projects each of which measures a defined set of skills in a defined group of subjects. New subprojects could be generated by testing different sets of skills, or by testing the same skills in different ways, or in different defined subject groups.

To create your outline, you compile the following five lists.

  1. The list of outcomes. Each sub-project should produce a single discrete outcome. For example in our hypothetical project on numerical skills, one of the sub-projects might test whether the ability to subtract develops at the same time as the ability to add.
  2. The list of research activities needed to complete the sub-project. Each sub-project its likely to require you to complete several activities, all of which will need to be described if a description of the sub-project is to convince the funder that you will complete it successfully. For example, in our hypothetical subtraction and addition sub-project the activities might include:- the selection of a suitable group of schools to be involved in the project; liaison with the schools; selection of participants; design of testing materials; development of testing apparatus; testing; data analysis; and writing reports and papers.
  3. The list of skills needed to carry out the research activities. Part of what you will need to do when you write the case for support is to ensure that all these skills exist within the project team and that you can demonstrate that they do by citing appropriate publications.
  4. The list of resources that the research grant will pay for.
  5. The list of resources that are already available that will be used in the project.

Once you have created your outline, you can write the key sentences that are the skeleton of your case for support. I will explain how to do that in my next post.

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