Developing grant proposals: Introduction


This is a very preliminary sketch of the stages involved in developing a grant proposal for outside funding. In the humanities and fine arts, some permutation of the following is usually a reasonable way to begin brainstorming grant projects.
Typically the stages go something like this:

  1. Identify, and describe in prose, a research project you would like to do, including an explanation of the goal of the project, the resources (financial, technology, or travel, etc) required, and the value of that project for scholarly and/or educational purposes. This description can start out as a list of keywords, turned into a descriptive paragraph, turned into a descriptive cover letter, and eventually turned into a full-fledged research proposal.
  2. Then, identify possible funding agencies. These could be campus-based, regional research or education agencies, national agencies (for ASL, for psychology, etc), or other. Pick several targets (at least 3, no more than about 6)
  3. Download/request the application packet from each target. This will usually include a description of the agency's mission, the history of projects it's funded in the past, the criteria that have to be met to be considered for funding, the forms/templates/components which the applicant must employ in completing the application, and the deadline(s) by which various items are due. Typically an agency will do no more than about two "award periods" (periods considering new applications) in a calendar year, so it's important to know and meet the agency's particular deadlines.
  4. Tailor/modify/adapt your descriptive material to suit the specific requirements and goals of each target agency. Typically you can permutate your master-files of description to suit the particulars of each target--in other words, it should not be necessary to write a completely new and different set of materials for each different target. If you find you are having to write a new set for a given target, it's probably a pretty good indication that the target is not a good "fit" for your project.
  5. Develop/assemble all the support material that such applications require. Typically this would include, in addition to the descriptive materials: your own CV (making sure that the CV speaks directly to the priorities of the target agency, to your own expertise and suitability for the research, and so on), support materials from outside recommenders (typically, letters written by authorities in the relevant field--your teachers, for example) which confirm your suitability for the research, and a detailed budget breaking down costs (travel, materials, publication costs, fees, accommodations, etc): typically grants are much more ready to cover costs than to pay a "stipend" to the researcher.
  6. Send in the materials and follow up with the target agency on the timetable they require.

I should emphasize that you can have two or three grant proposals out to different target agencies at a given time, and in fact that's a good idea: it improves the odds that one of those agencies will green-light your project. However, it's a big job to do each application, so you also don't want to over-extend yourself.

The above is a brief sketch of the stages in a typical process. I'd also encourage you to go and talk with researchers and/or advisors in your department--they will be well-equpped to tell you about specific target agencies. When you do, however, make sure you've thought about and can articulate the ideas in the first bullet-point above: the very first and most important obligation you'll have is to be able to describe what you want to do, and why it is valuable.

You might start with a list of keywords: imagine your project, and then imagine, say, 10 keywords which, if employed in a Google search, would return your particular project as the top of the search results. This can be a useful way to nail down the most important concepts that your project will address (and to make you think about those right from the beginning).