Tagged / funding; RPRS

Research funding: 10 tips for writing a successful application

The following post was first published on The Guardian’s Higher Education Network in April this year.  If you are thinking about developing a funding proposal, it would be worth having a quick read through the following useful tips.  

Read the eligibility rules

It’s important to understand what can be funded and what can’t on a particular call, says Ken Emond, head of research awards at the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Take a hard look at the priorities of the funding body you are applying to. It is the knack of linking what you want to do, with what they want to know, adds Mel Bartley, a medical sociologist.

Leave plenty of time to prepare

Most people would be better off submitting fewer grants but putting far more effort into the ones that they do, says Rebecca Steliaros, strategist, facilitator and REF (research excellence framework) impact advisor to eight UK institutions. It’s important to remember individual behaviour versus what the rest of the crowd is doing.

No unexplained jargon

The review is conducted by your peers, so advice we give on grant writing is about getting your message over in the clearest way in the available space, says Adam Staines, head of policy at Research Councils UK. Make sure the reviewer “gets it” and is excited about what is proposed, rather than infuriated by having to wade through to find the nub of the idea, adds Rebecca Steliaros.

Get other people to read it

Having the application read by someone you trust who is not a specialist in your field often helps to highlight areas where the application could be better expressed, says Ken Emond. Mock funding panels are very effective in helping people understand how hard it is to communicate in writing, adds Andrew Derrington, executive pro vice-chancellor of humanities and social sciences at the University of Liverpool. This exercise takes less than 90 minutes and helps researchers understand what happens to their applications as they pass through the grants’ committee process, and how they need to structure and write an application to succeed.

Explain why research is needed

It’s good to explain why it is important for a piece of research to be done now (at the time of application), for example to take advantage of the opportunity to interview people alive now who won’t be around forever, says Ken Emond. Explain why we need to know the things that your sub-projects will discover, and make sure in every paragraph you write, the message of the paragraph is contained in the first sentence, adds Andrew Derrington.

Network effectively

Networking both within your university and subject area allows you to develop the support that you need to work your way up the research funding ladder, says Andrew Derrington. It’s mostly applied common sense but there are several good blogs. The best way in is Phil Ward’s blog which has an excellent blogroll. If you are inexperienced in getting funding from a particular body, collaborate with people who have that experience, adds Adam Staines.

Justify extra time or resources

You have to justify the time and cost of any additional specialist staff, says Adam Staines. I have seen many panels supportive of 10% – 20% time of a bioinformatician or technician. Things tend to go wrong when you ask for 100% time and don’t need it, or ask for any time and don’t justify it in the case for support.

Participate in funding panels

It can be a real eye-opener in terms of what you need to do to stand out. You should develop a style that communicates your proposed work quickly and effectively, a contributor advises. It’s also a good idea to get your proposal reviewed internally by someone you trust to give good feedback, particularly on the summary sections which will be read first.

Interpret referees feedback carefully

If you can get the funder to tell you how far your proposal was below those that got funded, it can help, says Andrew Derrington. Once you have calmed down from the disappointment of rejection, look at the application again and show a colleague what the referees’ comments were. Often colleagues who have experience on panels will spot things that might explain the result. One harsh reality is the UK is very good at research, so many excellent applications don’t get funded with the available funding, adds Adam Staines.

Plan applications in batches

 The best way to ameliorate the post-rejection blues is to have another application already under consideration when the rejection comes, says Andrew Derrington. Never get down to your last application. Given that rejection rates are very high and panels can be slightly capricious, you probably want to try out a set of ideas four or five times before you decide that they are unfundable and move on

 If you found this useful, you might be interested to learn that the The Guardian supplemented this information with a live, on-line question and answer session.


If you have any questions about research funding proposals and the support available to you please contact Caroline O’Kane in the Research and Knowledge Exchange Office.   

Application rejected? what to do next….

As you all know, the research funding environment is highly competitive.   Whilst winning an award is a major achievement.  Rejection will be a common experience, for even the most seasoned academic.  

All is not lost!   A huge amount work goes into the development of a proposal.  It is a great shame to park your idea, when it could be re-worked, and submitted to an alternative funder.

Our internal peer review scheme, the RPRS, is very happy to support unsuccessful submissions.  We will provide feedback on your original proposal, and make suggestions as to where amendments could be made, how you can potentially improve the style of the proposal, advise on other possible funders, and provide other useful information.   To find out more please contact Caroline O’Kane.

I would also suggest you read a couple of blog posts from a little while ago on ‘coping with rejection’.   This is a two-part series, written by Adam Goldberg from the University of Nottingham, that looks at how you can move forward when it becomes clear your time courting a potential funder comes to an end.   Follow these links if you are interested:   Part 1part 2.

BU internal peer-review scheme for your research proposal

Why is the internal peer review of research proposals important?

  • The competition for research funds is high and is likely to increase.  Research Council funding presents a particular challenge – with the ESRC having one of the lowest success rates.
  • In recent years funders have expressed their growing concern over the number of poor quality research proposals they receive, with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) taking the action to implement a ban on submissions from unsuccessful candidates who fail repeatedly and requesting evidence on steps institutions take to improve academic skills in producing research proposals.
  • Internal peer review has been credited with producing higher quality research proposals and increased success rates and is a process encouraged by the Research Councils.

Who reviews the applications?

  • The Peer Reviewers are a selection of BU academics who have a considerable track record in successfully gaining research funding, who sit on funding panels and who review research proposals for funders.
  • We select two reviewers to review your proposal.

Who can apply to the RPRS?

  • The service is open to anyone at BU and for any type of research funding.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • Peer reviewers will provide feedback on the proposed research in terms of topic selection, novel value, clarity of ideas proposed and advise on how the proposal can be further strengthened. They may also provide the names of potential collaborators where applicable.
  • The Research Development Unit will provide feedback on general structure and style, clarity of ideas, timescales proposed, estimated costs, potential funders, eligibility for funding schemes, and any potential ethical issues.
  • Feedback will be delivered within 3 weeks of submission – often before.

How do I submit an application?

Will the RPRS help with unsuccessful applications?

  • Yes, if you have a unsuccesful proposal, the RPRS will provide feedback on your submission on how you could potentially improve the style of the proposal, advise on other possible funders and provide other useful information.   The system works as for as yet unsubmitted drafts.


  • It is now mandatory for all Research Council applications to go through the RPRS
  • Please allow sufficient time in your proposal development to allow for the  mandatory internal deadline of five working days for the submission of Research Council bids via the Je-S system.
  • This also applies to applications made via the E-Gap2 and Leverhulme Online e-submissions systems (affecting applications made to the British Academy, the Royal Society and the Leverhulme Trust).

Who can I ask for further help?

  • Caroline O’Kane in the Research and Knowledge Exchange Development team manages the RPRS and will answer any questions you have.