Grant applications

Grant applications should accurately describe the project and the research, and persuade reviewers that the proposed project should be funded. Applications therefore walk a fine line between academic text and a promotional document.

Although every grant application is structured differently, they are usually answering 6 basic questions:

Think about these questions as you prepare the application, to see what reviewers are really asking for.

See also Science writing style.

Download our quick guide for easy reference: Effective grant applications .

What will be done?

Describe clearly what is proposed, and make the reviewers want to read more. The following elements are often included:

  • Proposal title – usually 10–20 words long. The title should be precise and informative, and use language that is comprehensible to the general public. A catchy title can be helpful, but, most importantly, it should be easy to understand. Avoid highly technical terms, jargon and acronyms.
  • Summary of proposal – usually around 200 words long, but can be up to 1 page. The summary is like an abstract – it covers the aims, significance, brief methods and expected outcomes of the project. Again, use plain English, and avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Summary of project for public release (media summary) – usually 50–100 words long. This cannot just be a shortened version of the summary – it must be very accessible, and concentrate on the purpose and expected outcomes of the project. A good test is to see whether you can imagine it appearing as a snippet story in a newspaper or magazine. The media summary is a good place to practise the ‘dinner party’ technique for writing.



Title: Antibacterial peptides derived from Boletellus obscurecoccineus


Media summary: Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are the most commonly reported bacterial infections in Australian hospitals, and reports of bacterial resistance to conventional antibiotics are increasing worldwide. A new project aims to determine the specific effects and molecular mechanism of nonribosomal peptides on bacterial division. Investigations of Boletellus obscurecoccineus have found nonribosomal peptides with antibacterial properties.

Title: New antibacterials from fungi


Media summary: Drug-resistant bacteria are a serious and increasing health problem – more than 20% of infections in Australian hospitals are resistant to conventional antibiotics. This project aims to deliver a new, highly effective treatment for these infections. The project is investigating chemicals derived from an Australian fungus – Boletellus obscurecoccineus – that have been shown to stop bacterial growth. These chemicals could be used as the basis of a treatment for a range of life-threatening infections.

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Why should it be done, and why is now the right time?

This is the most important section of the grant application. Without clear evidence that the research is important, useful and timely, it will not be funded. ‘Why should it be done and why now?’ can be covered in several sections:

  • Aims. The ‘big picture’ purpose of your research.
Caution. Some researchers confuse aims and methods; when asked about aims, they say we plan to do a double-blinded study with 2 groups (and so on), rather than we aim to determine the effect of X on long-term survival in women with breast cancer.



The project will use novel assays to identify chemical markers of breast cancer in tears.

The project aims to improve early detection of breast cancer.

The project plans to measure water quality at 6 sites before and after installation of a semi-permeable membrane water treatment system.

The aim of the project is to develop a low-cost water treatment system for rural and remote areas.

This metastudy will use a combination of performance models to assess the strength of nanostructure materials.

The project aims to develop novel building materials with the ideal strength and flexibility for use as sea walls.

  • Background. The background to your research includes
    • the problem that it is addressing – what the problem is (eg health, environment, industrial, economic, social, scientific); why it is a problem (eg lack of treatment, lack of technology, lack of understanding); and who, what and how many it affects
    • the research that is being done to address the problem – current understanding and progress in the field, and how your proposal relates to work in the field
    • references – to demonstrate that you have a good knowledge of the field, citing other work in a standard format.
  • Significance. Your description of the significance of the research should
    • relate directly to the problem you have described in ‘Background’
    • describe how your research will address the problem
    • describe the impact of the research in terms of dollar value or the number of people affected, or similar
    • explain why the work should be done now, and not be put off until some later round of funding (eg every year we wait costs this many dollars or that many lives, or risks Australia losing its pre-eminence in the field; we are poised to build on our preliminary work and now have the collaborations to support progress).

If the problem is more abstract or narrowly focused, you can describe the broader application of the outcomes.

The dinner party technique (see Tips and tricks for writing) is useful for this section: pretend you are talking to someone you want to impress at a party. They ask ‘so why is your work important?’ Answer them clearly and enthusiastically.

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How will it be done?

Your research plan needs to be clearly described and justified. Linking stages of the research with specific aims can be a useful way to structure the proposal.

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Who will do it? Are they the best people to do it?

The reviewers want to know that you have the skills, commitment and resources to do the work. They also want to know why it should be you and not somebody else – do you have a new idea or novel approach? are your team members leaders in the field? do you have a unique collaboration or equipment? The information should include the following:

  • Track record. Reviewers want to know whether your track record demonstrates that you can deliver high-quality research. Provide details of similar projects, cited publications, patents, previous grants, and national or international collaborations. They may also want to know about your commercial achievements and understanding, such as industry consulting, industry placements, involvement in previous commercial ventures or licensing of intellectual property.
  • Role of personnel. Explain clearly the roles of the key personnel and their contributions to the project.
  • Partner organisations. Explain why these partners have been chosen (eg particular experience, skills, knowledge, equipment, intellectual property, pathways to utilisation or commercialisation). Make it clear how the partner organisations and personnel are involved in the proposal. Show that it is a real collaboration (eg student or staff exchanges, shared databases, communication methods, membership of steering committees). Explain how the project is likely to lead to further collaboration.
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What will it cost?

You need to describe why each item is necessary in your project, and you must demonstrate that you are undertaking the project in the most cost-effective way. Tips for putting together a budget include the following:

  • Be specific. Provide detailed costing. Get quotes for new equipment and use accurate salary scales. You must show how you arrived at the total estimated cost for each budget line. Do not include funding for ‘miscellaneous’ items.
  • Be honest. Make sure you need every item you are asking for in your grant proposal. Grant reviewers know what is involved in projects and how much it costs.
  • Justify. Describe why each item and staff member is necessary for the project. How will the items enable you to achieve the objectives of the research proposal?
  • Match. Matching funding or in-kind support will be looked upon favourably, even for grants where it is not required. Give details of all other significant contributions (cash and in-kind) to the project, and include a brief description of the research infrastructure available to you.
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What will the return be?

Reviewers want to know that the funding will be well aimed. The return can be a national or international benefit, or commercial potential. This is often the section that is most neglected in research applications, and a clear ‘value for money’ proposition will make your application stand out from others.

Some issues to consider follow, but these are only a small sample of the many potential outcomes of research:

  • Benefits. These can be
    • academic, including advancing the knowledge base of the discipline, or developing new methodologies or technologies
    • economic, including the value of new products developed through the research; the value of new or expanded industry activity; or the economic and social costs saved in better treatments, better industry processes, reduced work hours or reduced workplace turnover
    • health related, including better outcomes for patients, reduced mortality or morbidity, avoidance of adverse outcomes, or improved health system procedures
    • social, including better educational outcomes, improved services for marginal communities, or improved cultural understanding and acceptance
    • environmental, including reduced use of energy, reduced use of raw materials, reduced waste or pollution, or better reuse of waste.
  • Commercial potential. For grants with a commercial aspect, you will need to describe
    • the nature and value of the potential market (and possibly how this value was ascertained or modelled)
    • how intellectual property from the project will be owned and managed
    • the steps to market (including research milestones; prototype testing and scale-up; whether you will approach industry or venture capitalists, or establish your own company; and licensing arrangements)
    • expected royalty or other monetary return, with matching timelines.

Be as concrete and specific as possible in describing the return of the research:

This project aims to provide guidelines to pathologists to enable earlier diagnosis of 60% of breast cancers.
This project aims to improve breast cancer diagnosis.
This project aims to improve women’s health.

Tips. Read the guidelines for applicants. Keep to all length limits, file size limits and so on. Do not have your application thrown out on a technicality!

If possible, read the guidelines for the assessors too. They may be instructed to look for specific qualities, and these may vary from year to year. Are they emphasising, for example:

  • international linkages?
  • national research priorities?
  • employment-related outcomes?

Get feedback from successful applicants in your field and organisation. If possible, read copies of successful applications to the same scheme.

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