Grant Proposal Writing: Tips for Success

Grant Proposal Writing: Tips for Success

August Rayce, MS and Gretchen Patch, MPH, CPH |  Aug. 1, 2023
blog grant proposal writing tips for successACSM Foundation grant applications open after Labor Day. We polled the Research Review Committee for their top tips for a high scoring grant application. Here’s what we learned:

Writing – Make it easy for reviewers to read

The number one piece of advice from experienced grant reviewers is to use clear, concise writing. You aren’t evaluated by the elegance of your writing, but by how logically the proposal is developed. Key tips include:
  • Use a logical sequence – don’t make the reviewer scroll back and forth for pertinent information that is relevant to the current application section.
  • Don’t be afraid to use bullet points to make the proposal easy to read. The less text you can use to make a point, the better.
  • Avoid excess jargon and acronyms, explain key design choices, and if there are highly novel procedures, explain how they help answer your study question.
  • Write so that an educated scientist can follow the logic of your study even if they don’t have expertise in your specific area. It’s even better to write so that a lay person can understand what your grant will accomplish and why it’s important.

Proposal – Clear, specific aims are vital

Clear, specific aims are the top concern for grant reviewers. However, don’t sleep on the importance and rational for the study. Detail the gap the research will fill and make a strong case for why the research question is interesting. Additional tips for a strong proposal:  

  • Do not make small figures with tiny fonts. Keep figures simple, with crisp lines and easy to read text. 
  • Demonstrate that you have the ability to execute the research (background, facilities, mentors, collaborators, etc.).  
  • Indicate how this project fits into your overall research or education plan and the value of having this funding. 

General – Grantsmanship starts when applications open

ACSM Foundation grants, like all grants, are competitive, and grantsmanship is important to be successful. Reviewers encourage you to start early and give your mentors/collaborators plenty of time to read the grant and give feedback. Grantsmanship can include:
  • Specifically aligning your proposal to the funding opportunity and following all of the grant instructions.  
  • Demonstrating professionalism by submitting complete, final versions of applications. Believe it or not, the ACSM Foundation has received draft proposals with tracked changes still included. Reviewers do not want to see your drafts.  
  • Matching the scale of the project to the maximal amount of the grant. Make sure the project can stand on its own merits. 
Final note: all of the research grant reviewers are volunteers. They have full-time jobs, families and lives outside of ACSM, and yet they each willingly review more than a half dozen grant applications every winter. Writing a strong application honors their time and dedication to making this a fair, yet rigorous process.

Learn about grants available to ACSM members