This post outlines some tips for writing a competitive research grant proposal. The content is tailored primarily for those preparing proposals for the Animal Advocacy Research Fund, but should generalize in some ways to other granting competitions as well.
Choosing an Important Question
The first and most critical step to writing a grant proposal is choosing an important, unanswered research question. Does this question address a real problem facing animal advocacy groups? Are there any specific organizations currently struggling because they do not know the answer to this question? What specifically could these organizations change or not based on the results of this research? You should state your research question upfront in your proposal, and in simplest terms possible. You should be able to explain why you think this question is important, and demonstrate how it has not sufficiently been answered by past research.
To choose a question, you may find it useful to familiarize yourself with past research in animal advocacy, or spend some time reading about how major animal advocacy organizations are currently spending their time and money. You should also pay careful attention to the stated interests of the funding body. For example, we place particular value on research that produces strong evidence about the effectiveness of various animal advocacy interventions. We think there are important questions about many of the most common interventions that, if answered, would allow animal advocates to have a much greater impact.
Developing a Strong Design
Once you choose a research question, the next step is to design a study that will produce strong evidence that speaks to your question. To estimate the strength of a proposal, grant reviewers will carefully scrutinize the design and procedure of the study, the measures used, and the characteristics of the sample. While it is understood that there is no such thing as a perfect study, researchers should take care to avoid any sources of error or major flaws. For example, if an experimental manipulation is ‘confounded’ (i.e. manipulates more than one variable), or the study’s sample size is too low, it can be difficult to interpret the results. If you are uncertain about certain factors influencing the design of your study (e.g. the response rate associated with a particular procedure, or the variance associated with a particular outcome measure), it may be worthwhile to conduct or propose preliminary ‘pilot’ research.
In addition to choosing a topic and developing a strong design, you will also need to assemble a qualified team, and demonstrate your project is likely to succeed. We place particular value on teams that include both academics and representatives from advocacy groups, as we feel these collaborations are particularly well-suited to successfully execute the types of projects we are interested in funding.
Finally, remember that if your grant reviewers don’t understand something, or are missing key details, it will be harder for them to evaluate your proposal positively, even if it is a good one. Taking the time to craft a well-organized, easy-to-read proposal can go a long way.