Clarity and realism prove essential ingredients in grant applications

November 27, 2005

Researchers need to brush up on the style and contents of their grant applications if they are going to appeal to donors, according to an expert from a leading European center of excellence.

Researchers need to brush up on the style and contents of their grant applications if they are going to appeal to donors, according to an expert from a leading European center of excellence.

Compelling and original ideas, along with feasible plans and effective communication, are vital components of a successful application, according to Linda A. Everse, PhD, of Rotterdam University Hospital in the Netherlands, in an educational exhibit at the RSNA meeting.

Too often, proposals lack focus, organization, preliminary data, and a good reference test, Everse found. The sample size may be too small, and outcome parameters related only to test characteristics, rather than to total health benefit. Additionally, some project groups do not have sufficient expertise in the subject area or techniques, and certain authors are guilty of setting unachievable goals.

She urges researchers to follow 11 steps: develop an excellent idea, build a research team, select a suitable grant agency, read the instructions, write the purpose and aims section, create a title, write the plan of investigation, complete the abstract, compile the budget, make all necessary revisions, and submit the application. After that, they need to think of another idea because even the best proposals may be unsuccessful.

Many researchers immediately think of applying to their national research councils, neglecting the numerous smaller funding agencies. These groups tend to be less demanding than larger government bodies, and competition for their resources can be less intense, noted Everse.

"Admittedly the maximum funding available is also less, but they make an ideal arena for the new applicant who needs to cut his or her teeth before progressing to larger, highly competitive organizations," she wrote.

The key to writing good applications is to identify the audience and convey the message in a comprehensible, organized, logical, and easy-to-read manner, stated Everse. Authors must remember that reviewers may read proposals when they are commuting, tired, and distracted, and this puts further emphasis on the need for a concise and direct writing style.

"Your job as a writer is to make the balance between cost and effect as clear as possible for a given project. Ideally you also want to make the balance book attractive to the granting agency. Attractive means above all being true, reasonable, and with high effect for low cost," she concluded.