How to Write a Grant Proposal for Research

by Jennifer Ulz
How to write a persuasive grant proposal

Writing and submitting a grant proposal is not a task enjoyed by most people. However, if you’re a researcher, writing a grant proposal is something that you will probably need to undertake many times. And that is why, questions like how to write a grant proposal for research are commonly asked in the field of academia.

Research grant proposals are critical for showcasing your work and convincing funders to back your research project. While obtaining grants brings prestige to the researcher and the institution, in some fields such as medicine, academic success depends on the number of grants and amount of funding received1. So, how can you write a persuasive research grant proposal that will impress funders and enable you to grow your career?

Table of Contents

The importance of planning in research grant proposal writing

As with most major projects, the key to writing a successful research grant proposal is planning. This includes an effective plan for not only writing the grant but also a strong plan for the research itself. Planning is extremely important for writing a successful research grant proposal because your final submission needs to be a complete and consistent story of your proposed work. Imagine trying to draft a novel linearly from start to finish without knowing the ending beforehand. Writing a successful research grant proposal requires that you attend to every detail, which means you need a plan.

Remember, you are telling a story through your written grant application. Therefore, every part of the grant proposal must work together, with nothing extra to distract the reader. This requires detailed planning.

The core of a research grant proposal is the research plan. A poorly planned study will not impress the funders. In addition to clearly showing the reader what your proposed study will look like, you will also want to emphasize the positive impact the study results will have on the field and on society at large. Planning time will also need to be spent in identifying a suitable funding source and ensuring that their mission aligns with your research. The story you tell when writing your research grant proposal needs to be a story that interests them.

How to write a research grant proposal: Detailed steps

  • Identify an idea: It all starts with an idea. What are you trying to find out with your study? A good place to start is by identifying your research question2,3. Can you explicitly state the impact of the results and who might benefit? What makes your study different or novel? How will you conduct your research? In addition, make sure you identify your needs. What are you asking the funders for? Money for equipment, supplies, staffing? Will your research continue long term or will it consist of a single experiment? All of this will be important when you start searching for a suitable funder.
  • Find a matching funding source: Once you have your research plan, it’s time to look for suitable funders. Spend the time to identify all available grants that may be a fit for your study. Look beyond the obvious and the popular5. There may be more potential funders out there than you think.
  • Research the funder and topic: Once you have identified a suitable funder, spend a lot of time on their website. Read about their mission and history, and find out what they have been funding recently. Examine the Call for Proposals very carefully. Consider calling the program officer for the grant of interest4. They will answer any questions you have and may provide feedback on your topic or review your proposal draft.
  • Write the technical section: This will be the most difficult step for many researchers in the process of writing a research grant proposal. While you may have a handle on the nuts and bolts of the study, communicating it clearly and concisely to those reviewing your proposal is more difficult. Like with any writing, don’t make it difficult for the readers to understand. Remember, you are trying to sell this idea to them.

Remember to be confident and definitive when discussing the need for this study. It’s always a good idea to read and study successful samples of grant proposals from the organization to get an idea of what they want to see.

  • Review the call for proposals again: Go through the instructions very carefully. Make sure all the formatting is correct and all the required details are included in each section. You don’t want to give the reviewers any easy excuses for rejecting your submission.
  • Submit your proposal: Make sure you follow the submission instructions exactly. Submit your proposal early so you can avoid the stress of having technical difficulties the day the research grant proposal is due.
  • Learn from rejections and repeat: Keep in mind that most grant proposals are not funded, and even the most successful researchers get rejected. However, you can learn a lot from examples of unsuccessful proposals. Examine the feedback provided by the readers and use it the next time you write a research grant proposal.


  1. Zlowodzki M., Jönsson A., Kregor P.J., Bhandari M. How to write a grant proposal. Indian J Orthop. 2007, 41, 23-6. doi: 10.4103/0019-5413.30521.
  2. The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Grant proposals (or give me the money!). [Accessed August 10, 2022].
  3. Elsevier Author Services. Writing a successful grant application – step by step. [Accessed August 10, 2022].
  4. Santoro, H. The daunting but vital world of grant writing. Monitor on Psychology, 2021, 52. [Accessed August 10, 2022].

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a research grant proposal and a grant letter?

A research grant proposal is a comprehensive document that outlines your project or program, explains its significance, and requests funding. It typically includes sections such as an executive summary, introduction, project description, budget, and evaluation plan.
On the other hand, a grant letter is a shorter document that serves as an initial contact with a potential funder. It is typically a letter of inquiry or a letter of intent that provides a brief overview of your project, highlights its relevance, and expresses your interest in seeking funding. A grant letter is often used to gauge the funder’s interest before submitting a full grant proposal.

How many pages should a grant proposal be?

The length of a grant proposal can vary depending on the specific guidelines provided by the funding organization. It is important to carefully review the application instructions or guidelines to determine the preferred length.
In general, grant proposals can range from a few pages to several dozen pages. However, most funders specify a preferred page limit. Commonly, grant proposals may be around 10 to 20 pages, excluding supporting documents such as budgets, appendices, or letters of support. It’s essential to follow the funder’s guidelines regarding page limits and formatting requirements.

How can I make my grant proposal stand out?

To make your grant proposal stand out, consider the following tips:

a. Thoroughly research the funder: Understand the goals, priorities, and preferences of the funding organization. Tailor your proposal to align with their mission and objectives.
b. Clearly articulate the problem or need: Clearly describe the issue your project aims to address and explain its significance. Provide compelling evidence and data to support your claims.
c. Develop a well-structured and logical proposal: Organize your proposal into sections that flow logically, including an engaging executive summary, a detailed project plan, a realistic budget, and a comprehensive evaluation strategy.
d. Highlight your project’s innovation and impact: Emphasize the unique aspects of your project or program. Demonstrate how it fills a gap in existing services or approaches. Clearly articulate the potential positive outcomes and impact your project will have.
e. Provide evidence of your capabilities: Showcase your organization’s track record, expertise, and experience in successfully implementing similar projects. Highlight the qualifications of your team members and partnerships that strengthen your proposal.
f. Write with clarity and conciseness: Use clear, concise, and persuasive language. Avoid jargon and technical terms that may confuse the reader. Ensure your proposal is well-organized and free from errors.

Should I take feedback on my grant proposal before submitting it?

Yes, seeking feedback on your grant proposal before submission is highly recommended. Feedback from colleagues, mentors, or individuals with experience in grant writing can provide valuable insights and help improve the quality of your proposal. They can offer suggestions on clarity, organization, persuasiveness, and adherence to the funder’s guidelines. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas that may need further development or revision.

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