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From: Denise K. Magner

Subject: The Quick Tip: Common Grant-Writing Mistakes

It might not be the science that brought you a rejection, but the nonscientific gaffes in your proposal.

So your grant proposal came back with an unenthusiastic response from reviewers. Was it because they found your research question lackluster? Maybe. But there’s a good chance the problem was important nontechnical questions that you left unanswered in the proposal itself. With so much at stake, it’s a shame to see a proposal rejected for something that could have been avoided with a little work upfront. Among the most common nonscientific mistakes that researchers make in their grant proposals:

  • Square pegs and round holes. Too often scientists start with a compelling research idea, but fail to adapt it to the stated priorities of the organization they’re asking for money. Your proposal must highlight its responsiveness to the funder’s interests, or all the reviewers will see is that your idea is a poor fit for them.
  • A weak one-page project summary. The two major missteps on this front are summary pages that are too vague or that make claims that aren't followed through in the actual proposal. Either way, the result is a proposal that reads as inconsistent, meandering, and noncommittal.
  • Methods madness. By definition, a methods section is going to be highly detailed. But there is a point at which too much technical detail can waylay other important information — like why the project is important, who stands to benefit, and how the various elements will come together to achieve the stated objectives. Some investigators lean too much on technical detail in their proposals, and fail to establish the human impact.

Continue reading: "10 Common Grant-Writing Mistakes," by Jude P. Mikal and Gina Rumore

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Denise K. Magner is senior editor of The Chronicle’s advice section, which features articles written by academics for academics on faculty and administrative career issues.