The Research Whisperer

Five ways to kill your application

Angel of Death by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

I read a lot of grant applications – it’s what I do. I’m a very vocal reader. There are ideas that make me say, “That’s brilliant!”  There are passages that make me laugh (not always a good thing) and there are things that make me growl.

It is a low, guttural growl. It comes not from the back of my throat, but from deep in my gut. It comes from my rage, my frustration at seeing the same mistakes again and again.

These are five of the things that make me growl.

1. Weak on theory

Research applications are about theory. Your background should provide the background to your theory. Your significance should describe the significance of your approach to the theory. It isn’t hard, people!

2. No methodology

You need a methodology.  This is the main thing that you will be assessed on. It is almost always the weakest point in your application – a hostile assessor can always find something to criticize in your methodology. Writing background is easy. Working out how you are actually going to solve the problem is hard. Think hard. Plan well. Write clearly.

3. Declarative phrases

In research, nothing is ‘obvious’. Declarative phrases like “It is obvious that…”, “Clearly” often seem to cover the fact that you are weak in this area and want to shore up your argument. Syntactically, there is no difference between “It is obvious that this is a good idea” and “It is obvious that This is a good idea”. Delete, ruthlessly.

4. Lack of planning

You need a plan. A plan is different from a methodology.  It is a concrete expression of how you will spend your time and money solving the problem at hand. For a three year project, think about what you are going to be doing for the 12 quarters that you will be working on the project. Map it out in a simplified Gannt chart. You will be so glad you did.

5. Running late

Leave time for editing. A grant application is a serious document. 90+ pages is not uncommon. That leaves a lot of room for error. If you deliver it to me on the due date, there is nothing I can do.

Don’t make me growl.