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Grants Office, LLCThis blog has always focused on tips, techniques and samples of how to get a grant successfully funded. A recent article in the May 2012 issue of Funded, as published by the Grants Office, takes an opposite tack: “How to Ensure Your Grant Application Gets Denied,” by Susannah Mayhall.

Mayhall points out the following ten proposal writing sins:

  1. Don’t follow the instructions
  2. Wait until the last minute to develop project details
  3. Use as little detail as possible in your budget
  4. Include vague and elusive supporting materials
  5. Confuse reviewers with flowery language and illogical flow
  6. Miss the deadline
  7. Make promises you can’t keep
  8. Write a “shopping cart” proposal
  9. Use a template proposal
  10. Apply to programs without researching them first

According to Alexander Scheeline at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Here are the five critical points; five ways to write a losing (research) proposal:

  1. Propose something that's already been done. If you propose to continue doing what you did in graduate school, or what you did during the last three years of your prior grant, you'll get a yawn from the reviewers and thumbs down from the agency.
  2. Write a review article instead of a proposal. Thirteen pages of review followed by two pages of new ideas or 11 pages of review, two pages of preliminary results and two pages of new ideas will not get you any money.
  3. Have a solution looking for a problem. This is why method developers have trouble getting grants.
  4. Find someone else's bandwagon and climb on board. Instead, find a sufficiently important problem that you'll establish next year's bandwagon. Then you'll have other people chasing you (and your grant) rather than the other way around.
  5. Be blinded by subfield boundaries. Lines such as, 'To do this would require theory, and I'm an experimentalist,' [or] 'I'm no biologist, so I'll develop this method in the hopes a biologist might find it useful someday,' will do wonders to increase your number of declined proposals.”

Proposals That Work, 4th ed.;  Lawrence R. LockIn "Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and Grant Proposals," Lawrence R. Lock writes, "The most common reasons for unsuccessful applications boil down to a surprisingly small set of simple and familiar failures:

  1. Deadline for submission was not met.
  2. Guidelines for proposal content, format, and length were not followed EXACTLY.
  3. The proposed question, design, and method were completely traditional, with nothing that could strike a reviewer as unusual, intriguing, or clever.
  4. The proposed study was not an agency priority for THIS year.
  5. The proposal was not ABSOLUTELY COMPLETE in describing one or several elements of the study.
  6. The author(s) simply did not know the territory as revealed in the review of literature.
  7. The proposed study appeared to be beyond the capacity of the author(s) in terms of training, experience, and available resources.
  8. The proposed method of study was unsuited to the purpose of the research.
  9. The budget was unrealistic in terms of estimated requirements for equipment, supplies, and personnel.
  10. The cost of the proposed project appeared to be greater than any possible benefit to be derived from its completion.
  11. The author(s) took highly partisan positions on issues and thus became vulnerable to the prejudices of the reviewers.
  12. The quality of writing was poor—for example, sweeping and grandiose claims, convoluted reasoning, excessive repetition, or unreasonable length.
  13. The proposal document contained an unreasonable number of mechanical defects that reflected carelessness and the author's unwillingness to attend to detail. The risk that the same attitude might attend execution of the proposed study was not acceptable to the reviewers.”

These are just some examples of what won’t fly with proposal reviewers and funding agencies.

Yet, on the flip side of “How Not To Get Funded,” there is a silver lining.

Pamela Grow, in Grant Proposal Writing, shares this wisdom from her blog, What to do When Your Proposal is Declined. (Hint: It’s the Beginning, Not the End!):

“It’s always frustrating to have your grant proposal rejected, but it’s absolutely essential to stay optimistic and to persevere. The fact is that most grant proposals do get rejected, but learning from the experience—examining why your proposal was turned down—will benefit you by making future proposals stronger.

"After you’ve reevaluated your proposal, call the foundation (funding agency) and ask to speak with the program officer who reviewed your proposal. After you’ve thanked them for their thoughtful review, ask these three questions:

  1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
  2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle?
  3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach?

"Follow up by dropping a thank you note in the mail.

"And in your next round of grant proposals, build upon what you’ve learned. Send your applications to a diverse group of foundations, and be sure to explain how your project can help each foundation meets its own goals, not only how the foundation can help you meet yours. Above all—be patient, be persistent, and be positive.”

Next time, consider the 3 Ps: Patience, Persistence and Positivity!<>