Grantsmanship Guidance Notes

Here are some points to bear in mind when preparing a grant application. We hope that the advice offered below will be useful to researchers engaged in the planning, writing and submission of grant applications. However, the India Alliance would not wish grant applicants to feel that they are being instructed. Effective ‘grantsmanship’ is largely dependent upon personal ability, good mentorship, compelling research proposals and experience gained through the peer review and results of grant applications.

As a policy, the DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance actively checks applications for plagiarism (including self-plagiarism) using state-of-the-art publishing tools. India Alliance reserves the right to determine the seriousness of plagiarism in an application, as also the right to disqualify such applications from current and future competitions. Applicants are advised to avoid copying sentences and paragraphs from published sources (including their own publications) and to carefully check their applications before submission.

Ease of reading
• Minimise use of abbreviations and acronyms; define when first used. Do not assume that others will take them to mean what you think they do (e.g. does SC stand for spinal cord or Schwann cell?).
• Avoid technical jargon. Clear definitions are very helpful.
• The proposal should be clear and succinct, free of contradiction or leaps of faith, and readily understood by scientists outside your immediate field.
• Clearly planned, well ordered, sequentially presented background and experiments
• Balanced overview of the background, rationale and supporting evidence. Avoid only self-citing
• Aims of the proposal should be clearly defined at the start
• Most space should be given to experimental design and methods
• Use flow diagrams and well planned figures to lead reviewers through the arguments and plans.

Research questions

• Ask yourself 'Is this a good research idea? 'It should be important and cutting edge, either as fundamental hypothesis-driven science or addressing a significant clinical problem
• If a project is 'high risk' this should be because the topic being studied is intellectually and conceptually challenging,not because it has been inadequately planned
• Imaginative interdisciplinary work is encouraged, but a coherent strategy is essential
• If linked to other projects,provide detail of what is already funded and be clear about what exactly you are seeking funding for
• Incremental progress along low-priority,poorly cited, 'B'roads is unlikely to be highly rated in the competition for grants.

Technical approach

• Should be feasible (provide pilot data if available) and use the best contemporary method that achieves the answer
• Say why a particular approach is necessary and why others are not to be pursued. If 'high risk', what is the fall-back plan?
• Describe how data will be obtained and how it will be used in any statistical analyses of association with data or observations from other studies.

Experimental plan

• Should be realistic within the time frame of the grant. Overambitious proposals do not incite Committee confidence
• Include pilot/feasibility data(NB you can submit up to five pages of unpublished data as an appendix, and include 'in press' manuscripts with your application)
• If further preliminary data are obtained while the proposal is under consideration, contact the office to see if it can be included in the papers to be sent to the Selection Committee
• Show a time-line and experimental milestones
• In a population-or patient-based study ensure that the number of individuals is large enough to achieve the aim
• What is the size of any association or difference that you might be seeking? Will your sample size be large enough to detect it? Consult a statistician for guidance if appropriate, and show power calculations
• Demonstrate an awareness of the underlying principles and the associated complexities of the area under study to show that you can interpret the anticipated results
• Do you have the correct expertise for all aspects of the proposal? If not, show evidence of do-ability and or involve investigators with the appropriate expertise as formal co-applicants or signed collaborators
• Identify pitfalls before the referees do.

Resources sought

• All equipment, materials and consumables should be clearly and carefully justified. While it is tempting not to take time on this aspect of a grant request, items and resources that have not been justified are unlikely to be approved for award
• Should offer the very best value for money.

Personnel required

Justify the need for research or technical personnel in terms of qualifications and expertise required. Where appropriate, provide information on the research training that will be obtained by these staff
While it is helpful for a grants committee to see the CV and publication record of a named individual, it is not essential to justify a post in terms of a specific named researcher.

Research outcome

Should not rest on early development of a key method or reagent, and, if it does, preliminary data must be presented to indicate a high likelihood of success
Any pre-clinical development of reagents and strategies must be related to potentially realistic clinical therapeutic choices. This must be well-argued, not simply a somewhat randomly selected choice/direction.

India Alliance guidance and contact

• Read all the application form guidance notes carefully and answer all of the questions
• If you have any doubts or queries, contact the office for helpful advice, sooner rather than later.

General points

• All aspects of the application should be clear and focused. It is best to define all assumptions, limitations, and alternative approaches
• Use appropriate type size, font, spacing and margination. Make sure final application is free of mechanical errors (spelling, typos, grammar, etc.) so as not to distract the reader. Remember, 'A sloppy application = a sloppy scientist'!
• List references using the format requested • Formatting - have you accepted all tracked changes?
• Try not to rush any application - plan in advance
• Remember that it takes the India Alliance about six months to process an application.

Mentoring by senior colleagues

• Discuss proposal with sponsor or senior colleague.

Internal review of proposal

• Ask a clinician to review a basic biomedical proposal, or a basic scientist to comment on a clinical research proposal
•Seek input from as many willing individuals as you can enlist.

External review of proposal

• The India Alliance is happy for applicants to suggest reviewers, but these should not be collaborators or researchers with whom you have published in the last five years
• You may also provide the names of researchers whom you would prefer did not see the proposal. This should not be all the researchers in your field, and you will need to provide a reason why any particular individual should not be consulted.

To help the applicants sharpen their grantsmanship skills further, the India Alliance has come up with online modules, which can be accessed here. India Alliance also organizes regular Science Communication training workshops across the country. More on information on these workshops can be found here.