For as long as there have been grant proposal preparation and submissions, it has been “pro forma” to request adequate time for the Sponsored Programs Office to review it prior to. We also often suggest to faculty they ask a colleague to read through it, commenting on the clarity and strength of the areas of research. This is sometimes viewed negatively, after all, the faculty member is knowledgeable in the research area. When faculty question why it must be submitted for review two, three, or four days prior to the deadline, the common answer is a proposal needs to be reviewed by the submitting unit and others in the approval chain to protect the institution. Here’s some common areas of errors and issues that arise during grant proposal preparation.
The budget and budget description provide the financial expression of the proposed scope of work. If they are inconsistent, or there are unallowable/unnecessary costs, the proposal appears to be weaker due to lack of congruence financially. Unclear budget descriptions can cause the reviewer to question whether the principal investigator and her/his team possess the necessary research capabilities and understanding of how to conduct the research. Over requesting items that normally are made available to faculty can raise “red flags”. Under-requesting funding can also weaken the quality of a proposed project. If it is clear adequate funds are not being requested, it again clouds the perceived capability to successfully conduct the work. To best track budgetary items during grant proposal preparation, invest in a grant management software solution for greater efficiency and accuracy.
Sponsor Requirements: Typographic Errors, Incorrect Formatting and Omission of Required “Pages”
Have you ever written a document and re-read it multiple times, yet missed a typo until after you sent it? Our brains sometimes see what they think should be there, instead of the actual word. Depending upon “Spell Check” to autocorrect can lead to incorrect words. Humans still do a better job than computers of reading “fresh” to catch errors. Formatting a proposal in accordance with sponsor requirements can sometimes be tricky. Using the wrong font can cause the entire proposal to be declined. Missing required pages, say a Bio of the co-PI (or formatting it incorrectly) can lead to decline as well. One must proceed through the grant proposal preparation process with precision and an attention to detail.
Common Weaknesses in Proposal Writing
To best navigate through grant proposal preparation it can be helpful to heed the warnings and suggestions of those who have previously submitted. For example, Common Mistakes and Problems in Research Proposal Writing, An Assessment of Proposals for Research Grants Submitted to Research on Poverty Alleviation REPOA (Tanzania) by Idris S. Kikula and Martha A. S. Qorro, assesses various weaknesses found in declined proposals over a multi-year time period. Among these were:
- Titles: Often either did not reflect intended scope or too broad and lacked focus
- Introductions: Lacked clarity and focus, contained irrelevant information and old/out of date data and references
- Problem statements: Lacked clarity and articulation (some actually did not include problem statements at all)
- Objectives: Lacked specificity
- Literature Review: Inadequate, lacked focus, no review at all
- Hypotheses: Inadequate, irrelevant, or lacking, not testable
- Adequacy of Proposed Techniques (including equipment requests): Methods were not clearly presented. Proposed sampling and data analysis techniques were poor or unacceptable.
This study points out the necessity of a thorough review of a proposal prior to submission that goes beyond adding up the budget.
Regulatory Compliance Issues
Animal use and care, Human Subjects, Conflict of Interest, Training students, Radiation Safety… it seems the list of compliance areas increases daily. Although some of the review and approvals are “just-in-time”, the compliance and sponsored programs office needs to be aware of these elements at the proposal stage. Is a PI proposing research in a new area that will require review? How do you track proposals involving approvals before the project can begin? Do you have questions which need to be answered? Does your institution have the capabilities and infrastructure to adequately manage the compliance requirements or is this a new area of activity? Your institution needs to be aware of commitments being made in proposals before the award arrives.
Other Questions to Ask during Grant Proposal Preparation
Cost sharing often gets “slipped” into a narrative. Even if there is a policy of “non-cost sharing”, if it’s there, it’s binding. Is there a spouse included in the budget and scope of work? If there are subcontracts and subawards, are the other institutions aware they are included? Is there a financial conflict of interest with a small business? Does the PI own the business or have financial ties to it? Is there an international component to the overall project? All of these must be addressed during grant proposal preparation.
Oh, my goodness. Maybe we ought to increase the deadline to ten days before the due date! Until then, however, be sure to invest in the proper grant management software to make the review quicker and more successful. For more info on these tools be sure to contact IT Works today.