Allow yourself enough time
Applying to Research Councils is a time-consuming process. Preparing a draft proposal and consulting on it, preparing the project costings and getting advice on these, as well as reading the regulations of the grants scheme to learn what you can apply for, are all time-consuming parts of the process of application.
Timing – generally takes 6 to 8 weeks to write, cost and get approval for proposal. 30 weeks for research council to review proposal and announce decision. Start date should be no earlier than 9 months after date of submission.
Discuss your proposal
...with peer groups, colleagues, and with senior and more experienced researchers. If you have never sent in a proposal to the funder before, try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful. Research Services have a library of successful bids you can use as an example of work that has been funded. Draw up an outline of the idea (one side A4) and consult with colleagues in the department and externally, mentors, friends etc. Report the idea to your Research Director and to Research Development Officers.
Study your funding source
Identify a funding agency – use Research Connect, seek advice from colleagues and Research Services. Study the work programme of the funder in detail and note questions to follow up. Check previously funded projects e.g. use Gateway to Research for Research Councils, and study upcoming programmes, calls and deadlines. Research proposals should primarily be concerned with research processes, rather than outputs – how you will carry out the research - what you are going to do – is of more interest and carries more weight than the book, journal article, conference paper etc. you will produce at the end.
3 key features that should always be addressed in order to be considered for funding:
- The proposal must define a series of research questions, issues or problems that will be addressed in the course of the research. It must also define its aims and objectives in terms of seeking to enhance knowledge and understanding relating to the questions, issues or problems to be addressed.
- The proposal must specify a research context for the questions, issues or problems to be addressed. You must specify why it is important that these particular questions, issues or problems should be addressed; what other research is being or has been conducted in this area; and what particular contribution this project will make to the advancement of creativity, insights, knowledge and understanding in this area.
- The proposal must specify the research methods for addressing and answering the research questions, issues or problems. You must state how, in the course of the research project, you will seek to answer the questions, address the issues or solve the problems. You should also explain the rationale for your chosen research methods and why you think they provide the most appropriate means by which to address the research questions, issues or problems.
Read the rules
...and the guidance notes attached to the application form which are designed to help you through the 'filling in' process. This is very important. Don’t assume that you know the requirements because you have applied before as the guidance will change.
Build your proposal-writing team
Convene a working group to discuss the outline idea. Consider roles and responsibilities – above all agree who is to co-ordinate the proposal (write it, take ownership of it, carry it forward…). Consider the composition of the team – internal and external members – the primary determinants must be reputation, track record and academic expertise – be tactical but be sure you can work with them. Varied skills are most useful when it comes to running the project.
Who is going to benefit from the outcomes of the research? What difference is the research going to make to the wellbeing of society at large – individuals, organisations, nations? How can you demonstrate this impact? Note that Impact is very different from the simple dissemination of findings.
Consider Originality and Outputs
The idea needs to be striking, to build on existing research but to mark a clear step forward in the current state of knowledge. Think about the intended outputs in terms of what you want to write, exhibit, produce, host, contribute etc.