Six Steps to a More Competitive and Organised Grant Application

1. Prewrite as much as you can

Most grants require sections that are similar to other grants. These include applicant bios; organisation bios; budget; and track record. Not to mention if you’re doing something that fits into a larger piece of work you like have a good idea of what it is you want to do. Your approach or methodology. This is it to say these sections are identical no matter who or what your grant is for. But, having a bunch of words written, and accessible makes the writing process much faster.

2. Know who are where your funding comes from

For a researcher there are two obvious grant sources – the Australian Research Council (ARC) and for health and medical researchers, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). But there are others too. Such as overseas schemes (Wellcome Trust and National Institutes of Health); international schemes (Australia-China; Australia-India, Australia-United States, Australia-United Kingdom); as well as increasingly local schemes at the state (e.g. Victoria) or council (e.g. City of Monash) levels. There are various online resources that can help along these lines, such as Grant Guru, Business Grants, and Grant Connect.

But knowing where your funding could come from is more than grants. It is also government departments (e.g. health, education, employment, economic development), as well as sectors (e.g. medical devices, IT, engineering), as well as industry partners (from micro, to small to large).

Step 5 to writing

a better grant

– plan ahead

3. Prepare based on where your funding comes from

Knowing where your funds might come from is great. But preparing based on that knowledge is better. That means two things:

  • Maintain a watching brief for opportunities – setting up alerts, checking websites as part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine. Making sure you know what is out there and when it falls due. Some grants are cyclical. Others are ad hoc. Knowing when the busy periods are can help you plan your work around writing. OR you might like to look for grants that are due in down periods. When you might have more time or inclination to prepare a response.
  • Writing to the audience – what are their preferences? What do they like to see and read about? What’s the flavour of the month? Can or should you adjust your approach to better fit their desires? Some would argue no to this latter point. Others (including me) would say thinking about adjusting your argument is a useful way to reconsider the value of your work.

4. Say “no”

You’ve only got a limited amount of time and other resources – equipment, money, people etc. So, it is important to say no. No to additional partners. No to another application. No to more work. Too often in research I think we say yes to everything in the hope that something comes off. However, paying closer attention to the funding body and their preferences, the guidelines and the previous recipients will help you better see when and where you’re likely to have success. As much as having a high grant success rate is about writing well, it is also about saying no when your chances of success are too low.

5. Plan your application

We spend so much time planning our research – but very little planning our applications. So, put time into your diary to write the application. If you want a more balanced lifestyle adding in writing time will help ensure it happens within business hours – or hours that you are happy with – rather than once you come home and would prefer to be enjoying other aspects of your life. Know when you have busy periods of data collection and/or reporting, along with when lots of grants open and/or are due. Know who is on leave and when they’ll be back, so you can get their contribution in advance or during the application writing phase.

6. Practice

They only way to get good at something is to practice. So, practice grant writing That may sound like submit lots of applications – but it does not need to be that way. You can volunteer on internal grant review committees, ask your grants office if you can be an internal reviewer, offer support to your colleagues also writing grants. Don’t let yourself become the metaphorical rug everyone wipes their feet on, but helping and participating will greatly improve your writing You’ll see what is easy to read and understand; what looks good or bad;  you’ll get a reviewers perspective.

I hope this helps. I’d love to know what you do.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He loves helping entrepreneurs live their dreams. He finds that nothing is quite as satisfying as helping someone write a grant for research project; or bringing a life-goal to reality. He is driven by the challenge of helping people be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality. To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email ( or subscribe to the newsletter.