Tagged / RPRS

Research bid do’s and don’ts

The Do’s of writing a good research bid:

C – O – M – P – E – T- E

Clarity: avoid the overuse of technical jargon, spelling/grammatical errors and being overly descriptive or long-winded. Ensure that the bid is systematically structured and you make clear your aims and why these are important.

Other’s work: ensure that you present a balanced appraisal of the relevant literature in your field; that the research questions you identify are novel; that you exhaust any existing data rather than duplicate in your own plan of work.

Methods & workplan: ensure that you have a sufficient sample size; consult stakeholders; have clear interpretation plans; address ethical issues; have a realistic timeline; be clear on the coordination of co-investigators.

Potential impact & outcomes: state expected outcomes and impact and dissemination plans beyond the academic community.

Explain your costings: justify staff of requested grade; the need for equipment/travel.

Tune into the Funder: ensure the proposal fits with their aims, that you are eligible to apply and that the funder will cover the resources you request.

Expertise: if you are not experienced in winning bids, involve an experienced colleague/approach a collaborator and submit your proposal to RORP (where available)

The Don’ts of writing a good research bid

  • Do not rush it; take time to plan and prepare
  • Do not bid for a large grant if you are relatively new to grant bidding
  • Do not proceed with work up to full bid and submission if you have any doubts about strategic fit or your eligibility
  • Do not work in isolation
  • Do not ignore the internal peer review scheme RPRS
  • Do not assume that the funder will understand all acronyms or technical jargon
  • Do not mistake a research bid for a literature review of the subject area when writing the background to your proposal
  • Do not ignore difficult issues whether they are technical or ethical
  • Do not promise the earth!
  • Do not submit final bid without having an experienced colleague read over it first
  • Do not propose referees (if invited to do so) who you have published/worked with

Checklist to Complete Prior to Proposal Submission

  • Does your research fit the funders remit?
  • Do you meet the eligibility criteria for the funding scheme?
  • Is the research question/hypothesis you are asking an important one?
  • Are the research aims clearly stated?
  • Have you provided a bibliography and appraisal of current work in the field that demonstrates your familiarity with the subject?
  • Is the novelty value of the proposed research argued well?
  • Have you demonstrated the potential social and economic impact of the proposed research?
  • Have you demonstrated that the approach you will use is the best way to address the research question?
  • Have you documented a contingency plan in case of unexpected controls/lack of participants etc?
  • Have you included any pilot data to help the funders gain confidence?
  • Are the roles of the co-PIs clearly defined and their expertise demonstrated?
  • Have you eliminated technical jargon and spelled out any acronyms?
  • Have you ensured there are no grammatical or spelling errors in your application?
  • Have you ensured you are within the word limit for the application?
  • Does your Research Director/experienced colleague think it reads well?

Who can I ask for further help?

Contact Caroline O’Kane in the Research Development Unit for advice on what makes a good proposal.  

Caroline also runs the University’s Research Proposal Review Service (RPRS).  In addition to your proposal being peer reviewed, Caroline can advise on funding criteria, funders and eligibility issues.  

For the best results please get in touch with Caroline as soon as you start developing a funding proposal – the RPRS can support your bid in more ways than you think.

Find out more:

What do funders look for in a research application?

  • Funders look for a research application that is novel and that addresses an important research question pertinent to their strategic aims.  Check funder’s websites and research their current priorities.
  • They need to be convinced of the Principal Investigator’s ability to deliver and are thus keen to see clearly described aims and a well thought through project plan.
  • Funders are also increasingly looking for a clear indication of what the likely impact of the research will be.

How does the funding decision process work?

  • On receipt of a grant proposal, funders will identify UK and/or international academics with appropriate expertise to provide written assessment of it.
  • On the day of decision-making, there is rarely enough money to fund every grant considered to be fundable and so often a ranking/scoring system is adopted such that only those ranked in the top grouping get funded.
  • How far the bar comes down depends on the committee’s budget – you just have to present the best case you can to catch the eye of the funding committee.

What are the typical reasons for proposal rejection?

  • Applicant is not eligible to apply/exceeding the page limits/missing documentation
  • Uninvited/undeclared resubmissions which fail to meet the criteria after revision
  • Lack of clearly stated hypothesis/research question
  • Research question not considered to be novel
  • Insufficient reference to previously published research
  • Importance of research question not well argued
  • Project too vague in its objectives
  • Not clear how the methodologies/work plan will provide the answer to the question posed
  • Unconvincing track record of applicant
  • Proposal is over-ambitious
  • Lack of sound methodology
  • Not value for money (i.e. a quicker/cheaper way to answer question exists)
  • Outcome unlikely to have much impact on the field or impact of outcomes not explained
  • Proposed research would be run in isolation/in an unsupported environment

Who can I ask for further help?

Contact Caroline O’Kane in the Research Development Unit for advice on what makes a good proposal.  

Caroline also runs the University’s Research Proposal Review Service (RPRS), and can advise on funding criteria, funders and eligibility issues.   For the best results please get in touch with Caroline as soon as you start developing a funding proposal – the RPRS can support your bid in more ways than you think.

Find out more:

British Academy announce Mid-Career Fellowship Scheme


The British Academy have published details of their next round of Mid-Career Fellowships, with a  2nd November 2011 closing date for applications to the Outline Stage.

These fellowships are aimed at allowing successful applicants to obtain time freed from normal teaching and administrative commitments. The time bought by the scheme should be devoted to the completion of a major piece of research.

Who is eligible?

  • scholars who have already published works of intellectual distinction
  • or have established a significant track record as an excellent communicator and ‘champion’ in their field,
  • and who are normally within no more than 15 years from the award of their doctorate.
  • the Academy will make due allowance for applicants who have had career breaks, and for established scholars who do not have doctorates.

Full Economic Costing

These Fellowships are covered under the Full Economic Costing (FEC) regime, but the Academy’s contribution to the salary of the Mid-Career Fellow will be capped at an upper limit of £80,000. It is not expected that the total value of an award will exceed £160,000 (BA contribution to FEC). Awards can be held over a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 12 months, beginning in the autumn of 2012.

Thinking of applying? Talk to the British Academy

If you have any questions about your eligibility please have a chat with the BA they are happy to help and actively encourage researchers to get in touch when thinking about submitting a bid.   

Phone: 020 7969 5200  5200   

Contact RPRS!

If you are thinking about submitting a proposal please contact Caroline O’Kane at the RPRS at the earliest stage.  The RPRS will not only organise peer review of your proposal, but can also ensure that your bid is fully compliant with funder guidelines and eligibilty. 

Key deadlines:

The BA closing date is 2nd November 2011.  Please remember the BU internal deadline of five working days for submission of British Academy bids, and build this into your planning.

Bidding success

On Friday last week the RDU organised two bidding workshops with John Wakeford of the Missenden Centre.

John left the groups with some important points to remember when writing funding applications.

Here are John’s top tips for bid writing success……

Top ten rules for readability:

  • think about your audience
  • think how they will read it
  • only use words they will understand
  • plan
  • engaging title and first sentence
  • every word counts
  • avoid -ve words, difficulties, conditionals
  • face problems, but replace with challenges/opportunities
  • short sentences
  • eliminate jargon, and minimise acronyms

 Key features of a good proposal:

  • investigate funders’ current priorities
  • contact CRE Ops, RPRS, identify potential reviewers and book them in
  • read carefully the precise rules for submissions
  • check agreement among your collaborators
  • allow time for multiple drafts

Strategies for success:

  • network, network, network
  • hitch your wagon to a star
  • be in contact with funders
  • why should they want to fund you?
  • ensure you are the world expert
  • guarantee impact
  • clear your diary
  • re-use ideas on different context and try again
  • deliver on title
  • re-read and consider:
  • why should it be funded?
  • how would the world be different if it wasn’t?

If you are thinking about writing a funding proposal please contact Caroline O’Kane and find out about how the RPRS can support your bid.

To find out more about John Wakeford’s sessions please contact Susan Dowdle or Caroline O’Kane.

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.
  • Feedback will be delivered within 3 weeks of submission – often before.

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.

How do I submit an application?

  • Contact RKEO Funding Development Team to obtain a rough costing for your proposal. RKEO FDT will guide you through the process
  • Send in a Word or PDF version of your electronic submission draft (such as Je-S) and submit to Jo Garrad and Dianne Goodman/Giles Ashton.
  • The RKEO FDT will undertake review of the proposal and forward to 2 experts
  • You will receive feedback within 2-3 weeks


  • 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 internal deadline 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?

  • Jo Garrad and Dianne Goodman/Giles Ashton  in the Research and Knowledge Exchange Development team look after the RPRS and will answer any questions you have.

One man’s experience of the Research Proposal Review Service

A short while ago Richard Berger, Head of Postgraduate Research for the Media School, submitted a proposal to the Research Proposal Review Service.  This is his story…..

I recently used RPRS for the first time. It’s a system that’s been running for a while, and before then I used to informally ask colleagues to look over bids I was in the process of putting together. This time however, I used the RPRS for a recent Expression of Interest. Previously, I had always been in a rush to get bids in and felt that I wouldn’t have time to go through a formal peer-review process. But I was wrong.

Despite quite a tight deadline and the fact that this took place in August – when many colleagues and support staff are on leave – the service was very prompt and extremely diligent. I was asked to select some designated reviewers from the Media School, and in a week, I received two comprehensive reviews of my EOI. The comments were extremely useful, and I incorporated most of them into my document. It was clear that both reviewers, and Caroline at the Centre for Research and Enterprise, had read the quite complex (and lengthy!) call for expressions-of-interest – which much have taken some time.

I’ll have to wait and see, but I do feel the process was very worthwhile. Bid-writing is often quite a lonely process, and it’s nice to know that there is now a great deal of support at BU, even in the height of summer. It’s quite difficult to get the balance right between being objective and critical, and being supportive; I think the team at CRE have got it just about right.

So, in future, I will still show work-in-progress to colleagues and friends at BU, but I’ll use the RPRS too, as it’s more formal and doesn’t take as long as you perhaps think it might. Also, your colleagues may not be as critical as RPRS no doubt will be. Being successful at getting research funding will benefit everyone who works at BU in the long-run, as the reputation of our institution increases. So, why not try for yourselves?

To find out more about the RPRS and how we can support your proposal,  please contact Caroline O’Kane

ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme – internal application information

ESRC logoThe ESRC’s Future Research Leaders call is currently open with a closing date of 15 September 2011.

Universities are expected to consider applications very carefully prior to submitting them to the ESRC through this call, and all applications need to be supported with a letter from the PVC (Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation).

With this in mind BU has established a process for submissions to this call. All proposals must be submitted to a special version of our internal peer review scheme (the RPRS) first and must be signed off by Matthew Bennett as PVC (Research, Enterprise and Internationalisation) prior to submission.

For applicants interested in the scheme, the key internal dates are as follows:

22 Aug Proposals to be submitted to the RPRS and sent for review.
29 Aug Proposal feedback to be returned to applicants.
29 Aug – 5 Sep Applicants to finalise proposals based on reviewer feedback.
5 Sep Final proposals to be sent to Matthew Bennett (via CRE Operations).
5 Sep – 15 Sep Matthew Bennett to review and approve final proposals (and write the PVC letter of support). Once reviewed, CRE Operations will let applicants know when to submit via Je-S.
15 Sep ESRC submission deadline.

For further information on the RPRS please see the RPRS website: http://erss.bournemouth.ac.uk/researchsupport/bids/writing/rprs.html

If you are considering applying to the scheme but have not yet confirmed this with the CRE Operations team please could you do so as soon as possible.

Leverhulme Trust research programme grants

The Leverhulme Trust has funding available for research programme grants. This funding is for projects of up to five years duration and overarching projects should address a central theme of significance through the undertaking of a series of distinctive sub-projects. The 2012 competition themes are:

  • conspiracies
  • patronage
  • value

Proposals will be scored against the following criteria:

  • the opportunity for original thinking in the subject
  • the extent to which the proposed topic naturally touches upon an array of sub-disciplines
  • the extend to which the treatment of the topic departs from the heartland of a current and established professional specialism
  • the significance of the topic as a future issue of debate

The deadline for applications is 4pm on 11 January 2012.

For further information, including definitions of each of the themes, application guidelines, see the call website: http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/funding/RP/RP.cfm

If you’d like to submit a bid then speak to the lovely people in CRE Operations who will help you with the submission process.

I’d also recommend that all proposals are run through our excellent internal peer review process, the RPRS, to ensure they are as strong as possible prior to submission. For further information on the RPRS contact Caroline O’Kane or see the RPRS website.

Internal deadline expanded to include bids to: Royal Society, British Academy and Leverhulme Trust

At the start of the year ULT agreed to an enforced, mandatory internal deadline of five working days for the submission of Research Council bids via the Je-S system. This has been extremely effective in identifying and correcting errors in applications prior to bid submission, resulting in higher quality applications being submitted.

The University Research and Enterprise Forum (UREF) agreed yesterday to expand the five working days internal deadline to applications made via the E-Gap2 and Leverhulme Online e-submissions systems. This will affect all applications made to the following funding bodies:

  • British Academy
  • Royal Society
  • Leverhulme Trust

To enable BU to seriously compete for future Research Council funding, bids submitted by BU need to be of the highest quality possible. The Research Proposal Review Service (RPRS) has been established to offer advice to improve the quality of bids submitted. The RPRS is there to help you submit the best quality proposal possible – talk to Caroline O’Kane about putting your bid through the RPRS.

The decision from UREF to expand the internal submission deadline to cover these additional funding bodies is to allow sufficient time for the CRE Operations team to undertake the necessary institutional checks and also to provide the opportunity to make any required changes in a more considered, less pressured fashion. Five working days is the internal deadline advised by the Research Councils and other major funding bodies.

Academic staff will continue to be guided through the process and made aware of the internal submission deadlines by the CRE Operations team.

This change will take effect from 1 August 2011.

The Research Development Unit welcomes our new team member, taking over the RPRS

The RDU are delighted to introduce Caroline O’Kane as our new member of the team!

“When I’m up and running I’ll be looking after the Research Peer Review Service. At the minute you can find me in Melbury House but I will be moving to Talbot Campus before too long.

I may be new to BU but I’m not new to proposal development and bidding. I’ve worked in international development for 13 years, where I was heavily involved in the bidding process from initial concept to developing and submitting funding applications and then to managing resulting projects.

I’m not new to the area either – myself, husband (1), children (3) and chickens (2) live just down the road in Parkstone.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the RPRS. If you’re any way involved in funding applications then I’ll be introducing myself to you soon.

You can contact me on extension 61356, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday mornings”

Writing a lay summary is easy, right?

Not necessarily! The lay summary is an extremely important part of most research bids. Most researchers think they write it well, and yet many bids fail because it is not ‘lay enough’. The topic was debated at this year’s ARMA conference (Association of Research Managers and Administrators) in bonnie Glasgow. The highlights of the session are detailed below.

A lay summary is used to explain complex ideas and technical and scientific terms to people who do not have a prior knowledge about the subject. A lay audience is heterogeneous (it includes the general public, patients and users of the science, politicians and other decision-makers, and researchers in different disciplines such as potential research collaborators). A lay summary is a requirement at application stage by most funding bodies, including the UK research councils.

When applying to UK research councils you are normally allowed up to 4,000 characters for your lay summary. There is no need to use all of these characters; often being concise is good for a lay audience! There are also some funding bodies that enforce a much stricter word limit, such as the British Heart Foundation who only allow up to 100 words for a lay summary.

What is the definition and purpose of a lay summary?

This very much depends on which funding body you are applying to as they all have their own definitions. For example, the Je-S Help Guide states the summary should be “written so that it will be understood by a non-specialist audience” but each of the different research councils have their own definition, such as:

EPSRC – “Using simple terms you are asked to describe your proposed research in a way that can be publicised to a general audience. It is very important that you make every effort to ensure that your summary is understandable to someone who is not an expert in your field. This is the section of your application that, if successful, EPSRC will use for publicity purposes. You should also note that the Outline panels who will review your proposal will be drawn from across EPSRC’s remit and will not necessarily have expertise in your research area.”

ESRC – “Write in plain English. Your proposal is likely to be seen by a great many people, some of whom will not be versed in your particular specialisation. Detail and specification may necessitate the use of disciplinary or technical terminology and this will be clear to peer reviewers, but the ideas you wish to convey and your reasons for doing so should be apparent to a wide audience. By the same token, do take the trouble to check spelling, grammar and punctuation. These are all part of the quality of presentation and presentation matters!

What is the story you are telling?
What is the audience?
Why does it matter?
Why now?
Why are they the best person to carry out this research?”

One of the most  concise and succinct definitions is provided by Buckland et al (2007): “a brief summary of a research project or a research proposal that has been written for members of the public rather than researchers or professionals. It should be written in plain English, avoid the use of jargon and explain any technical terms that have been included”. [1]

These different definitions are very confusing! But in essence a lay summary has three main requirements:

  • To paint the bigger picture
  • To answer who, what, where, when, why, how?
  • Be written in plain English

Painting the bigger picture: The lay summary is your first chance to impress the reviewer! Reviewers are very busy and in the majority of cases the lay summary is the first (and sometimes the only) part of a grant application that he/she will read. It is therefore vitally important that it is interesting, easy to read and conscise. It needs to give an overview of the whole project – the background, aims and expected impact.

Answer who, what, where, when, why, how?: It may sound harsh but many reviewers will read research proposals and be left asking themselves ‘so what?’. Your lay summary needs to answer this by explaining why the project is exciting, relevant and timely, and worth funding now above all of the other submitted proposals. Lay summaries are normally used by funding bodies to promote the research project so think about who is likely to read your lay summary, should your proposal be funded, and ensure you answer these ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’ questions with these various readers in mind. For example, your lay summary may be used in the following ways:

  • by politicians in raising and justifying research funds from government;
  • to justify public spending on research;
  • to attract new collaborators such as industrial partners and researchers from different disciplines
  • by press officers to promote your research to the public

Be written in plain English: A strong lay summary will always explain any technical terms used, spell out abbreviations, and avoid using jargon. It will also be written in ‘plain English’ but what exactly does this mean?

  1. Titles should be simple and clear. The European Commission’s FP7 guidance states that titles should be understandable to the non-specialist in the field. The best format for a title is to give a short statement followed by a colon and then a brief explanation.
  2. Simple analogies should be used to help the reader make sense of complex ideas. Arthritis Research UK suggest a good example of this is Bill Bryson’s book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ [2] which uses analogies of everyday objects and activities to explain complex scientific concepts. Whilst simple analogies might mean that you lose detail and may not be perfect then strengthen your proposal if they make your ideas clearer to the reader.
  3. Clear layout – avoid using English phrases (such as ‘the lion’s share’) as these may not be understood by the reader. Avoid using double negatives as they cloud meaning. Order the paragraphs logically – start with the problem your research aims to solve so the reader can identify with this first. Break up blocks of text with bullet points, shorter paragraphs, etc. It is good practice to match the layout with the layout of your objectives. Do not use jargon (unless it is defined and explained in the summary) and ensure all abbreviations are spelt out.

Media / public engagement training courses: The UK research councils offer media/public communications training courses. These are highly recommended within the sector and offer good value for money. Most councils allow you to include the costs in your research proposal providing you justify it in your case for support, otherwise the training is free to funded students or grant holders. For example:


BU’s internal peer review scheme (RPRS): Support for writing and strengthening research proposals (including writing a good lay summary) is available via the internal Research Proposal Review Service (RPRS). Visit the RPRS webpage for further information!


[1] Buckland, S. et al (2007) Public Information Pack. How to get actively involved in NHS, public health and social care research. INVOLVE Public Information Pack 4 available at: http://www.invo.org.uk/pdfs/pip44jargonbuster.pdf

[2] Bryson, B (2004) A Short History of Nearly Everything, Black Swan: London