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Winning a grant in 12 pages or less

Julie Manoharan

An experienced grant writer and peer reviewer shares some advice on how to use the National Institutes of Health’s shortened grant applications to your advantage.

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Almost a year after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) introduced shortened, restructured grant applications for 2011 funding, researchers are still adapting to the new forms.

The new applications emphasize the significance and innovation of the proposed research rather than method details. Logical experimental design, instead of hard experimental detail, is also valued more in the shorter application than in previous versions.

Karin Rodland shares tips for NIH grant writing in an audio conference recorded 26 Jan. 2011.

“You have to throw away your old long grant and not try to just cut it down to size,” advises Karin Rodland, a laboratory fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NIH peer reviewer, and mentor to young investigators.

Rodland recommends using essential questions to facilitate the grant writing process. These questions include: (i) what problem am I trying to solve? (ii) why is this problem important? (iii) why hasn’t it been solved before? (iv) what am I going to do differently that will advance the field? and (v) what impact will it have on human health? “That should really guide writing the whole proposal, and the answers should be evident on the first page,” says Rodland.

Other strategies include starting the grant strong and foreseeing potential experimental roadblocks. Within the first page—which is more critical than in previous versions because of the reduced page limit—Rodland says researchers need to present a clear and concise rationale for conducting the proposed experiment. Because less experimental detail can be included, grant writers should emphasis the logic of experimental design and highlight potential problems and proposed solutions.

The new proposal format could level the playing field for younger investigators, according to Rodland. The format emphasizes the qualifications of a researcher rather than his or her number of past publications. The old style enabled researchers to list as many publications as would fit in 3 pages. Now they are requested to list only their 15 most relevant, recent, or significant papers, explains Rodland. “That’s really going to benefit the young investigator who hasn’t had a lot of time to amass 150 publications.”

Although Rodland enjoys assisting younger researchers in the proposal process, she admits there’s an additional benefit for her. “There might be a bit of enlightened self-interest because I would much rather review a collection of well-written grants.”

Rodland provides additional tips and approaches on NIH grant writing in an audio conference she recorded on 26 Jan. for the Principal Investigator’s Association.

Keywords:  Grant writing Funding NIH