Many of you have initiatives where success in grant writing is necessary to fund and implement your programmatic goals. Most of these fall into one of the following three categories – 1) CE educational programs, 2) research programs, and 3) charitable work. While CE educational programs are funded under a 501(c)(6) Tax ID (professional association), most research and charitable grant applications can be funded only under a 501(c)(3) Tax ID.
I would like to hone in on research and CE educational grant applications here, as there are some commonalities in how to shape a successful application.
The first and foremost feature of a successful application is that it addresses a topic of significance to the field in a meaningful way.
To be significant, the application should be timely, i.e., it should be founded on the latest advances in the field (cutting edge research and/or current best practices), as documented in the peer-reviewed biomedical and behavioral literature, typically through articles indexed by PubMed. Successful applications are generally supported by reference lists that are heavy on recent publications (e.g. 2015-2017) but also includes seminal (or milestone) publications from earlier years that maintain relevance to the field and provide historical context.
Research proposals that are derivative of previously published findings are generally deficient in significance. Similarly, CE programs that are “recycled” from previous years rather than updated in meaningful ways would generally be less competitive.
Also essential to a successful application is that the objectives are clearly stated and address the most significant features of the topic being addressed.
In the case of research proposals, the objectives are typically called “specific aims”. In research, it is important that the objectives frame clear-cut questions that can be answered definitively through experimental approaches. It is optimal to craft objectives that, if fulfilled, could result in statements such as “these results demonstrate that…” or “these results provide evidence that…” In the latter case, it is essential to be able to note how strengths and limitations of the study qualify the strength of the conclusions drawn from the body of evidence obtained.
Proposals with objectives that, if fulfilled, could result only in descriptive information or conclusions amounting to nothing more than statements framed as “supporting the notion that…” etc. are unlikely to be funded. In CE educational proposals, the objectives are “learning objectives”. It is important that these are written properly to capture learning realized; much guidance is available about this in the literature.