What NOT to do when writing a grant proposal

How to NOT write a grant proposal

As grant consultants, we know what does and does not work in grant proposals. Transferring this knowledge to our client, however, is not that easy. This is because we’re often bringing bad news: existing text is poorly written or not structured well, CVs should be drastically cut down, a consortium is too large or not balanced etc. Writing grant proposals is not easy, the competition is fierce and many sub-optimal decisions can be made. Below, we will detail a few low-level tips on common mistakes and pitfalls in grant writing. 

Poor planning

Often, people who contact us are late. They saw the call too late, had to deal with other things first, did not have a clear idea or consortium yet etc. Of course, having our support helps facilitating the process, strategically structuring of the project, enhancing the quality of writing, and taking away burdensome tasks. But we cannot buy you more time. A proper planning, clear timeline, and a dedicated team is crucial for project success. And don’t forget large holiday periods in summer and around Christmas, these strongly affect the timeline of the project planning as well.

One-sided focus

For scientific proposals we’re often confronted with scientists who want the entire proposal to be focused on the scientific idea and write accordingly. Unfortunately, especially for larger consortium grants, a large part of the proposal focuses on project management, fit with the call, feasibility, impact, proper communication of results, and (research) training. Recently, additional topics like Open Science, data management, and sustainability have also become more important. Researchers often tend to put aside these topics for later or only consider them very briefly while they’re also important for the project and will be reviewed as such.

Lack of structure

A result of the focus on research content is working inside-out. First get the details right, then focus on the bigger picture. We prefer to work the other way around: focus on the bigger picture (project impact, strategy, structure, and fit to the call) first and then switch to the details. This ensures that your projects fits with what the call or grant scheme asks for, something that is of great importance but is easily forgotten during the writing process. When you already filled in the details, it becomes harder to change this strategy. Prevent the slogan: if you can’t convince them, confuse them.

Imbalanced consortium

Your consortium needs to tick a few boxes. Common mistakes we see in consortium formation are related to adding “too much of the same”, having to add a friend that took you along the last time, or adding a diversity partner only for the sake of diversity. What also happens often is that coordinators ask many people at the same time. When they all say yes, you end up with a large, unmanageable consortium. We advise to keep your consortium small and to-the-point and focus on complementarity rather than completeness.

Need help?

We like to help you to compose a winning proposal, in which your project is presented in an optimal way, 100% in line with the specific needs of the call. A proposal in which the background, the problem addressed, the project aims, the activities and the results and impacts are clear and SMART. Where the balance between strategy, overview and details are balanced and the proposal is nicely outlined and easy digestible.

We at Evers + Manders have years of experience with grant advising and help you to do so and make you improve your proposal towards a winning one!


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