The United States government offers over 900 federal grant programs totaling more than $721B. In 2019, over half of that funding was awarded to healthcare research. Accessing a slice of the grant money pie should be simple, right?

Unfortunately, it is not. In 2020, the National Institute of Health (NIH) received just over 55,000 medical research grant proposals. Only 11,332 were awarded grants—an approval rate of 21%. These statistics aren’t unique to the United States either. Biomedical research funder Wellcome in the UK funded around 20% of applications in 2017-2018.

With the number of applications rising each year, yours will have to stand out from the crowd. Even the most subtle mistake in your proposal could mean rejection when it’s stacked up against the competition. When it comes to writing a medical research grant proposal, here are our 5 tips for success.

1. Know Your Audience

First of all, make sure your research goals match up with the award you’re seeking. Federal agencies may have different focus areas and objectives than private foundations. Aligning yourself with the right opportunity can increase your chances for success.

In other words, do your research. The NIH, for example, publishes weekly Funding Opportunities and Notices.

Once you’ve found an opportunity, don’t start writing yet. Fully review and understand the application requirements and process. Do not skip this step! Why? The average NIH grant application has instructions totaling over 100 pages.

Look for the contact person listed in the instructions. There is usually a name, phone number and email address. Call, or email if there’s no phone number listed. Talk to the contact person about your idea and see if it is something the agency would be interested in funding under this grant. Most people skip this crucial step. Don’t be afraid. Just pick up the phone and call.

Next, prepare a roadmap for your application based on the evaluation criteria. For example, the NIH evaluates applications based on five core criteria, as broken down by Dr. Hossein Ardehali of the Feinberg Cardiovascular and Renal Research Institute:

Significance: Does this project address an important problem in the field? How will this project impact the field and how will it improve scientific knowledge?

Investigators: Are the investigators qualified and experienced to conduct this project? If the project is collaborative, do the investigators have complementary expertise that are appropriate for the project? 

Innovation: Is the project concept novel and original? Are the experimental techniques innovative?

Approach: Are the strategy and study design appropriate for the completion of the study? Are potential limitations and alternative strategies discussed?

Environment: Is the institution supportive and are the resources adequate for the project?

2. Take Your Time  

Dr. Ardehali recommends a timeline of 4-6 months to prepare your grant proposal. Take special note of the due date and aim to have it completed at least a week or two in advance to account for unforeseen delays.

Take Your Time

This long lead time allows you to review not only the funding agency and its application requirements but also what makes a winning proposal. Open Grants shares proposals from a variety of researchers to help early-career scientists write better grants. They indicate whether or not the project was funded.

Research administrator Beth Keithly, of The University of Texas at Dallas, explains the difference between giving yourself months instead of weeks to write your medical research grant proposal.

She recommends at least 120 hours to write a grant (probably more for NSF or NIH grants.) If you write over the course of six weeks, that’s 20 hours a week. But if you spread it out over six months, you’ll be writing five hours a week. And this doesn’t include time for the preliminary research outlined above.

Slow and steady wins the medical research grant proposal writing race!

3. Write Well

Let’s start with the basics. Ensure there are absolutely no spelling or grammatical mistakes. In a medical research grant proposal, simple slip-ups can call your competence into question. Attention to detail in your writing is indicative of overall diligence.

Remember that a medical research grant proposal is not a research paper to be published in a journal. Clear wording trumps medical or scientific jargon. Think of the proposal like a job interview—make a solid first impression. This is your chance to explain what you can accomplish in your field of study and why that is important. Showcase your technical expertise in the research design itself.

How to test the strength of your writing? Ardehali explains: “The proposal needs to be clear and flow well…In other words, the grant should tell a story that is easy to follow, even to someone not familiar with the topic.”

 Proposal writing is no walk in the park. It can be especially difficult if you haven’t written one before. If you’re struggling with it, consider taking an online class to improve your skills. Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and Skillshare offer a variety of grant writing courses.

4. Edit Even Better 

Because you’ve followed Tip #2, you have ample time to refine your proposal. It helps to space out the writing and editing phases by a few days so you can approach your work with fresh eyes.

One of the best ways to increase your chances of getting your next project funded is to have other Ph.D. scientists critique your grant and provide feedback. Another option is to have a professional scientific writer edit your grant application to improve how it reads and eliminate errors. Here at The Med Writers, we offer both of those services.

Edit Even Better

Use a checklist to ensure you’ve fulfilled all of the application requirements. And submit your medical research grant proposal well in advance of the deadline—a computer malfunction or WiFi issue could spell disaster at the eleventh hour.

5. Don’t Give Up 

Unfortunately, rejections are part of medical research grant proposal writing. Some rejections come complete with feedback, but you can request an explanation if you don’t receive one. Use it to strengthen your proposal for another submission and to improve your future writing.

Writer James Mitchell Crow outlines some “Rejection Resources” to help unfunded projects find future success.

  • Find support from peers. Fellow researchers have experienced rejection, too. Seek out blogs or spaces where others share their stories and tips on what to do next after a medical research grant proposal is rejected.
  • Search for another grant scheme. It could be that your project and the funding agency’s strategic goals were a mismatch. That might not be the case elsewhere.
  • Choose a different type of funder. If a government agency rejected your medical research grant proposal, look to industry or foundation instead.

Successful grant writing is hard but not impossible

Your medical research grant proposal will be on the right track once you follow our 5 tips for success. Know your audience (the funder), take your time, write well, and edit even better. Even if it’s rejected, don’t give up!

Contact us for help with your grant application—we employ professional writers with medical and scientific backgrounds. We can elevate your writing above the rest!