Five tips for writing an excellent grant proposal

Categories: News | Grant | MSCA

by Ciarán Gibson

Earlier in February, the EURAXESS UK team invited Dr Brian Cahill to deliver an online workshop to support early career researchers in writing a successful grant proposal. During the workshop Dr Cahill, who is Grant Manager at the Technische Informationsbibliothek in Hannover, Germany, shared his insider knowledge with over twenty researchers from around the globe, giving them invaluable advice about how they can make their grant proposal the best it can be. There was a particular focus on the wide variety of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowships available to researchers, however much of Dr Cahill’s advice can be applied to any grant applications.

In this article we explore Dr Cahill’s top tips for submitting an excellent grant proposal.

Tip 1: Choose the right supervisor and host institution

Securing the support from a supervisor who is willing to help you through every step of the process is an important first step. Therefore, find a supervisor who shares the same research interests as you. If they have experience working with international researchers, even better, as they will understand the challenges researchers can face when moving home for the next step in their career. You should also consider the host institution you’re applying for. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are longer term prospects for you at this institution. Getting the right fit is key. The enthusiasm and synergies between your research, your supervisor and host institution will come through in your application.

Tip 2: Show that you are worth investing in

What you write should demonstrate why you are the best fit. What makes you the best choice for this grant? You want to show that you are committed to developing your career and that applying for this opportunity is the logical next step on your research journey.

Tip 3: Get the evaluator interested from the very beginning

Your abstract and the first pages of your proposal should get the evaluator excited about the ideas you are pitching. They should create curiosity and hook the evaluator right from the start. The key questions to answer here are: ‘why is this research important?’ and ‘how will my concepts solve this specific problem?’ Make every word count and cut anything that is irrelevant to your proposal.

Tip 4: Make it easy for evaluators

Evaluators will read a lot of proposals. If you can make their lives easier, you’ll already be a step ahead. So make your proposal easy to read. The best way to do this is to be clear about what you mean. Don’t use unnecessary or complicated language simply for the sake of it. Keeping everything clear and concise will help the evaluator get right to the heart of your proposal.

Structuring the proposal in the right way will help considerably with this, too. Check the proposal guidelines and/or template to make sure you are covering all the relevant sections, and ensure you structure your application accordingly. This makes all the difference in terms of readability, and the evaluator will thank you for it!

Tip 5: Check the eligibility criteria!

This one may seem obvious but it’s crucial to check the eligibility criteria before you start your application. There’s nothing worse than producing a top-notch application, only to discover that you aren’t eligible. So make sure you tick all the boxes before you take this next step.


Some final things to keep in mind:

  • They say a picture speaks a thousand words so consider if using an image would illustrate one of your points better. A well-placed graph or chart can help the evaluator understand your ideas in a much more concise way.

  • Be sure to check all your spelling and grammar, too. If English is not your native language, consider having it checked by someone whose first language is.

  • If you need to draw particular attention to certain points, you can use bold, italic and underlined text to your advantage. Be sure to use this sparingly and in the right places.

  • Finally, try to avoid using too many references. Only the most important references should be cited. Most evaluators won’t have the time to go through them so they just take up valuable space you could be using to argue why you’re the best fit for the post.

It is easy to overthink things when you are writing a proposal but what’s most important is that you show why you’re the best fit and how you can make a difference. So write with positivity and enjoy the process. And good luck!

The EURAXESS UK team will be running more interactive workshops for early career researchers in the future. Places are usually limited so if you want to be the first to hear when there are upcoming workshops, subscribe to the monthly EURAXESS newsletter.

Need to contact the EURAXESS UK team? You can email us at euraxessuk@britishcouncil.org.


About the workshop facilitator

Dr Brian Cahill works at the Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology as Grant Manager of the COST Action CA19117 on Researcher Mental Health. He is a Member of the Governing Board of EuroScience and was previously Chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association. He was a Marie Curie fellow with research interests focused on measurement techniques for droplet-based microfluidics. He acts as an evaluator of MSCA Individual Fellowships and other funding calls.