Two Essential Bits of Advice Grant Writers Never Give You

Two Essential Bits of Advice Grant Writers Never Give You

In Australia, Christmas is a time for seeing family, having fun, eating heaps and doing it all outdoors – fun in the sun.

Of course, if you are a researcher all that has to be put to one side as you take annual leave to develop your latest and greatest research idea, grant, project (aside: yes, researchers take annual leave, but still write their grants. They truly are dedicated to the cause or perhaps chained to it, I am yet to work out which).

Perhaps you’ve been working on your project and team since October last year, or you could have been strategically invited to join someone else’s grant over the Christmas-New Year shut down. Regardless, January, February and March bring countless hours searching and re-searching information and ideas that will make your project pop (and therefore be funded).

At this point you’d be expecting me to swing into advice about how to write a grant that is successful. But I am not going to do that, its been done heaps already here, here, and here.

But, what I will say is this:

  • Don’t write like Santa gave you words for Christmas – I first heard this when working with a colleague (Dr Kathy Avent) at RMIT. It was a little bit flippant at the time, but still rings true to me (and to her). Across a range of disciplines – including my home discipline of biomedical science – there is a propensity (perhaps even a game) to come up with the best new word to describe a phenomenon, protein or method you want to research. The problem is, reviewers spend too much time trying to remember what the word means/refers too. It makes the grant difficult to read and as a result hard to assess highly. The other instance of getting words for Christmas is an overly long application. I’m not talking about going over the word or page limit here. I am talking about using more words because you have not yet reached your word or page limit. It is like driving around the block three times because you are early to a meeting – you just wouldn’t do it. Ultimately, you’re trying to translate your idea into something someone else will want to argue for – so give them the present of a concise application for Christmas.
  • Build a diverse team – I’m not just talking about diverse gender or career position. I am also talking about areas of expertise (science, engineering, arts etc), host/home organisation (university, government), ethnic background (born here or overseas) and country (international researchers). There is evidence to suggest all of these factors increase grant success and (more importantly) increase publication impact and translation of research into action. Not all need to be on the grant, but all need to at least read the grant application. The diversity helps across three areas:
  • Understanding – different people and experiences bring different levels of understanding. If your grant is understood by a broad cross section of people, chances are your reviewer will understand it too.
  • Relevance – the group will give you feedback on if the piece of research has relevance within and outside your field. Can it be translated into other fields or into practice.
  • Impact – Driven by things like broader networks, international reach and cross discipline impact, research projects involving diverse teams have much higher citation rates than similar research with ubiquitous teams.

Good luck as you write your next grant, project or proposal.

Raven Consulting Group specialises in delivering high quality strategic advice to the education, research and government sectors. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping organisations achieve their full potential. His strategic approach to collaboration and research translation has been making the impossible possible for more than seven years. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality. To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email ( or subscribe to our newsletter.

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