Writing a good proposal - part 1 of 3
1. Allow yourself time
Preparing a draft proposal and consulting on it, preparing the project costings and getting advice on these, as well as reading the regulations of the grants scheme to learn what is and what is not permissible, are all time-consuming parts of the process of application.
2. Study your funding source
All funding agencies will have their own criteria for deciding on allocation of their resources. It is worth while taking time to familiarise yourself with these and ensuring that your proposal clearly addresses your targeted source of support.
The ESRC is an agency funded by the government and its mission is "to promote and support by any means, high quality, basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in the social sciences; to advance knowledge and provide trained social scientists which meets the needs of users and beneficiaries, thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the UK, the effectiveness of public services and policy, and the quality of life; and, to provide advice on, and disseminate knowledge and promote public understanding of, the social sciences".
Four characteristics of all successful ESRC research grants are constant. They must:
- promise excellent research
- be of value to potential users outside or within the research community
- convince of the ability to deliver research
- demonstrate value for money (not necessarily the same as cheapness).
3. Read the rules
...and the guidance notes attached to the application form which are designed to help you through the 'filling in' process. This cannot be over-stressed; familiarising yourself with the content of the ESRC Research Funding Guide may seem tedious but will help you to avoid basic mistakes which at best will require clarification with office staff and at worst may prejudice chances of success. Make sure you are using the current versions of the application form and Research Funding Guidelines. If in doubt check with the office staff at the Council. (More information on electronic applications to the ESRC.)
4. Discuss your proposal
...with peer groups, colleagues and, if you are a relatively new researcher, with senior and more experienced researchers. Experienced collaboration or supervision rarely goes amiss. If you have never sent in a proposal to the ESRC before try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful. Contact the people you intend to nominate as referees and make sure they know what you are doing. It is not uncommon for nominated referees to be unaware of the substance of the work they are asked to comment on, have little knowledge of the applicant or his/her work, or give a very poor grading. Some have even been known to decline to comment!
5. Justify your costings
...which should be considered with care and close reference to the ESRC Research Funding Guide. A maximum of 2 sides of A4 is allowed on the compulsory justification attachment to the application. Be realistic - lavish costings are unlikely to find favour with Panel Members and a proposal which promises the earth at remarkably low expense will be regarded with caution. Applicants should think carefully about the time and resources needed to complete the research successfully within the specified period. Awards will be based on the eligible costings included in proposals and will be subject to standard indexation and cash limited at the time of announcement so it is important to get costings right when applying. A well thought out financial plan helps to create confidence in the proposal generally. Give as detailed a breakdown of costs as possible so that the Panel can properly assess the case for support. Do make sure that what you are asking for is allowed within the regulations. Bear in mind that ESRC is looking for value for money.