One the advice of a knowledgeable senior scientist I recently bought the book 4 Steps to Funding, by Morgan Giddings. It's a quick read, as I was able to finish the entire book on a not-so-long flight, but it crystallizes a few important concepts. The author describes her early career grant writing as producing haphazard success, due in large part because she was not systematic with her approach to grant structure. Her experience certainly struck a tone with me. Whereas we have had some recent success, the road to this point is littered with rejected proposals.
As I read through the book my main reaction was "I'm kinda doing that, but not with purpose", which is basically how Giddings retrospectively sees her early attempts at funding. Thus, the suggestions and scheme in the book are something I will strive to use in my next funding efforts.
Some important take-aways:
- The project summary (NSF) or specific aims (NIH) page should be hammered out and honed before starting the rest of the proposal. Not after, not during, make it first.
- If you don't have a really good "WHY" to your proposal, you need to rethink your project. What does that mean? If you can't describe in detail why your reviewers need to see the results you plan to obtain, you are wasting your time. The rest of the proposal is just words on a page if you are unconvincing in this first step.
- A grant proposal has many similarities with a marketing pitch and ignoring an enormous amount of literature on how marketing works is counter-productive.
- Reviewers need to be led along a very specific path Why? --> Who? --> What? --> How? in order to capture their attention and get a positive reaction. Varying the order of those steps will result in a less favorable response.
The book goes into great detail in support of the points above and I found it to be a very interesting and useful read. If you are applying for grant funding of any kind*, I think you will get a lot out of this book for a very small investment on money and time.
*Unless you are applying to the same panels and study sections that are reviewing my proposals. In that case, this book is a total waste of your time.