Texas Tech University


Grantwriting pursues money through a good story. It is not the project itself, but a story in a subjunctive mood, a prediction of great things coming to pass if the piggy bank is shaken overhead. To learn to evoke this future in a manner that strikes readers as credible requires practice. Fortunately, much of grantwriting is intuitive.

In a series of learning modules, we'll look for universally applicable lessons while holding to that basic test of intuition. Why does it matter? How is it new? What's the payoff? The review criteria of ten federal agencies, as compiled by a research development team, reveals an overarching desire for the same basic type of story (Table 1, Adapted from Falk-Krzesinski et al. 2015). 

Table 1

Table 1: Adapted from Falk-Krzesinski, H. J., & Tobin, S. C. (2015). How Do I Review Thee? Let Me Count the Ways: A Comparison of Research Grant Proposal Review Criteria Across US Federal Funding Agencies. The Journal of Research Administration, 46(2), 79–94.
Why does it matter?   Significance  Intellectual Merit: potential of the activity to advance knowledge and understanding // Broader Impact: potential of the activity to benefit society  Significance  Importance of the Problem // Responsiveness to Absolute Priority  Importance  Significance  Scientific and Technical Merit  Relevance Humanities Significance  Artistic Excellence: artistic significance 
 How is it new?  Innovation  Creative, original, and transformative concepts and activities  Innovation  Responsiveness to Absolute Priority Innovation   Unique and innovative methods, approaches, concepts, or advanced technologies  Innovative methods, approaches, concepts, or advanced technologies  Scientific Merit: novelty, innovation, uniqueness, originality The quality of innovation in terms of the idea, approach, method, or digital technology Artistic Merit: extent to which the project deepens and extends the arts' value 
 How will it be done?  Approach  Well-reasoned, well-organized, rational plan  Scientific Approach  Quality of Project Design // Technical Assistance // Design of Dissemination  Research Strategy and Feasibility  Overall scientific or technical merit  Technical Approach  Scientific Merit: conceptual adequacy, clarity of objectives, feasibility  Project's feasibility, design, cost, and work plan  Artistic Merit: quality and clarity of project goals and design
 In what context will it be done?  Environment  Adequate resources available to carry out the proposed activities  Feasibility: environment available to conduct the studies  Adequacy and Accessibility of Resources  Environment  Capabilities, related experience, and facilities  Feasibility: Technical and Management Capabilities  Adequacy of Facilities and Project Management  N/A Artistic Merit: resources involved 
 What is special about the people involved?  Investigator  Qualified individual, team, or institution conducting the proposed activities  Feasibility: expertise of the PI and collaborators Project Staff and Training   Personnel  Qualifications, capabilities, and experience of the PI, team leader, or key personnel Feasibility: Technical and Management Capabilities  Qualifications of Project Personnel  Qualifications, expertise, and levels of commitment of the project director and key project staff or contributors Artistic Excellence: quality of the artists, art organizations, arts education providers, works of art, or services // Artistic Merit: project personnel 
 What is the return on investment?  Overall Impact  Broader Impact: potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes  Relevance to the healthcare of veterans  Design of Dissemination Activities  Impact  Relevance N/A   Relevance and Importance to US agriculture  Likelihood of stimulating or facilitating new research in the humanities Artistic Merit: potential impact on artists, the artistic field, and the organization's community 
 How effectively will the financial resources be managed?  Budget  N/A  N/A  Adequacy and Reasonableness of the Budget  Budget  Evaluation of cost Reasonableness and appropriateness of the proposed budget   N/A Project's feasibility, design, cost, and work plan  Artistic Merit: appropriateness of the budget 
 How will success be determined?  N/A Mechanism to assess success   N/A  Plan of Evaluation  N/A  Evaluation against the state-of-the-art  N/A  N/A  N/A Artistic Merit: appropriateness of the proposed performance measurements 

If there's an art to writing a good grant, it's to balance an awareness of those universal questions with an awareness of the particularities and priorities of the funder in a narrative that flows cleanly. We believe that the best way to learn is to look at actual examples drawn from successful grants.

Orienting Yourself

Read a bit more about what makes grantwriting as a genre different from other literary forms. Or consider a few common questions, followed by the heart of this section, consisting of excerpts and analyses from various successful proposals in both the Arts & the Sciences. If grantwriting is universal, then that is where we will get particular.

I am feeling overwhelmed by the whole grant landscape. Where do I even start?

The competitive nature of grant seeking inside and outside of academia has the pleasant side effect of generating a great number of resources both within a faculty member's university and more broadly available. Grantwriting has a problem of too many resources, not too few.

Though there is a corresponding array of help one Google search away, I would argue that the first step is getting a handle on the people who have a stake in your success. Your specific department, your college and your university are the obvious starting points: all of their resources should be open to you. At the university level, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) is the starting point, as many units fall under its umbrella. You'll find the websites of the Research Development Team (RDT) and the Office of Research Services (ORS) here, among many other units. To generalize, ORS helps with budgeting, while RDT engages in a mixture of training services for new faculty and hands-on development of larger, multi-institutional proposals.

There are simply too many resources to link to, so I'll try to link to some useful collections of links instead (such is the nature of the Internet). In my mind, one indispensable collection is VPR's Resources for Researchers, which is simply a collection of links to relevant departments and programs, as well as the Guide to Research found therein. The Guide to Research in particular provides a great introduction for those who are new to Texas Tech, in an easy to follow, orderly manner. Another useful collation is their faculty development page, which links out to a variety of seed grants, training programs and points of contact. VPR has also put together a collection of funding resources. I speak a little more about funding in the next question as well.

Resources at the College level vary. If you belong to the College of Arts & Sciences, we will work with you on all stages of preparing a grant, including the first steps of finding one, but particularly in terms of writing the proposal itself. This webpage is built around that particular focus—the majority of resources will be focused on that particular moment in time when you are staring at a Word document. If you are not a part of the College, there is a decent chance that your own college has a dedicated grantwriter or resources of their own. And don't forget about your colleagues, who may have won the very grant that you are interested in.

How do I find grant opportunities?

There are very few research academics lucky enough not to have asked this question. Yet the tools for finding grant opportunities are correspondingly sophisticated; often, they are literally automated. TTU subscribes to two major subscription services to aid in finding grants—pivot.cos and Foundation Center—while a third, grants.gov, is run by the federal government and therefore open to all, and a fourth, Texas.gov eGrants is for this state in particular. You can find a list of funding resources that links to these and a few other particular opportunities, including TTU grants, but the rest of this answer will be dedicated to helping describe the differences between these four databases. This is because, in reality, one of these four databases is where you will conduct almost all of your grant searches (at least online. There is always the old-fashioned method of word of mouth, which regularly proves itself to be superior).

Among these, Pivot is the search engine you are most likely to find useful, as it is the most comprehensive. Its database captures most active federal and private grant opportunities, and its various tools, such as weekly personalized notifications, are very useful. Free Pivot training sessions are provided by the Research Development Team (RDT) in the Office of the Vice President of Research (OVPR). Or, simply follow the link above and click "sign up" to create an account based on your TTU e-mail address. There is an art to searching: hitting on the right keywords for your searches, and finding the right balance of filters in the search fields are vital to play around with. Never give up on an idea just because your first set of search terms did not kick anything up.

For private foundations alone, The Foundation Center will be your best resource. This searchable database is accessed through the TTU Libraries page (Find database, databases beginning with the letter F. Try bookmarking the link here to avoid having to re-navigate). Though they do have options to include government grantmakers as well, I find grants.gov better for this. In addition to active calls, Foundation Center lets you search the funders themselves. You can drill into fields of interest, geographic focuses, and even IRS filings in a manner ideal for this often murky world. If you find a private foundation in exactly your field of interest, you do not need to wait for an active grant opportunity to pick up the phone and establish a relationship. A five-minute conversation may do more for your understanding of a funder's priorities than a day spent reading materials online (note that this is true of most organizations, including federal, where it is standard practice for people to get to know their program officers. With many federal programs, it is not just acceptable but often highly productive to submit unsolicited concept papers outside of an RFP window).

Lastly, grants.gov provides a searchable window into the world of federal grantmaking in the same way that Foundation Center provides specialized access to the world of private foundations. Given the substantial amount of funding disbursed by such agencies every day, this is an indispensable tool. This only pertains to the U.S. federal government, so if you have reason to believe that other nations might also fund your research (whether by citizenship, international collaboration, or geographical area of research), don't forget to check their national equivalent, or a general search tool. Again, Pivot is one such catchall. The state of Texas also provides its own grants database.

How do I write a grant?

This is actually an easy question to answer. Find grants that were funded, and read them. Find colleagues who were funded, and talk to them. Write the best grant proposal that you have ever written, finely tuned and in accordance with the priorities of the funder, show to colleagues and grant editors for comment, revise and improve, finalize, submit with high hopes, (maybe) have it rejected anyway, and then take that as the starting point. If you were not funded, various organizations such as the NSF will provide reviewer comments. Even organizations that do not automatically provide reviewer comments often provide them upon request—and if they don't do that, you can often at least elicit some cryptic comment about their priorities that year.

Based on this feedback, try to determine whether it is a problem with the manner in which the project is being communicated or the project itself (though this presumes there is a problem—sometimes a funder simply turns to different priorities that year, and then you realize that you never actually spoke to a program officer prior to submission in order to feel out the sort of projects they were looking for). In terms of turning around a previously rejected grant, RDT will provide SCAN sessions to strategize on resubmission. If you belong to The College of Arts and Sciences, we will also work with you on resubmissions. To raise fluency in the genre of grantwriting, we are also building a database of sample research proposals submitted to a variety of agencies and organizations and successfully funded. While this resource is being built, feel free to e-mail directly and describe your project. There is a good chance we have a relevant writing sample to lean on and can send you something.

The typical grant is not won the first time around. However, if you assume that a grant will be rejected and are just looking for feedback, your proposal probably won't be polished to the extent necessary for useful feedback. In short, always write a grant assuming that you deserve to win it, but also understand that rejection is often the most useful step for you in eventually winning a grant.

Case Studies: Breaking Down Successful Grants

If you're someone who believes that the fastest way to learn is by looking at what successful people are doing and learning from them, then this is the place to be. 

NSF Case Studies

How Much Teaching is Too Much? A Case Study From the NSF

Most academics are specialists within their disciplines. Even people from one's general area of interest may belong to a neighboring subfield with its own assumptions. Click through for a case study to see how one NSF grant proposal slips a number of explanations into its narrative in a manner that does not strike the reader as overbearing.

Selling Significance: What Will Happen if this Project is Funded?

Examine a number of NSF proposals (and a few quotes from elsewhere) for a brief analysis of the early sections of proposals, where the overarching merit of the project goals are established.

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NEH Case Studies

Literature Review and Two Key Words: First and Never

Are you the first? Does it matter--why should we care? Focusing on the idea of novelty as a prerequisite, this module presents and analyzes literature reviews from five NEH fellowship proposals. 

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NIH Case Studies

Selling Significance

It's not enough for you to believe your proposal has merit, you must convince those who read it to believe so.

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Don't forget that we're here to help! If you are a faculty member in the College of Arts & Sciences, we can work with you on all stages of the grant preparation process, from brainstorming to composition and, ultimately, submission.

Nural Akchurin, Associate Dean for Research
College of Arts & Sciences

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