How to Write A Grant Application

Writing grant applications could be tricky and time-consuming. Before embarking on developing a grant proposal, it is essential that the overarching aim(s) of the research proposal align closely with the objectives of the funding agencies. For example, some funding agencies offer monetary support only for fundamental research and therefore, the nature of the proposed research must be framed accordingly. The funding agencies vary greatly in terms of their requirements, deadlines, and review processes among countries and continents. Some examples include the European Research Council (ERC) which supports research proposals ranging from proof of concept studies, starting grants for early career researchers (with 2 to 7 years of experience after PhD) and advanced grants (for established researchers). The National Science Foundation (NSF) based in the US, National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A-Star) based in Singapore, Human Frontiers Science Programme (HFSP) are some examples of well-known funding agencies.

Writing a grant proposal begins with the title and abstract, which are key components and should be crafted to reflect the overall aim and significance in a compelling manner. Whereas there are guidelines and word limits for both the abstract and title, in general, the abstract should consist of a brief background, clearly specified objective(s), approach, and significance of the work. The title and abstract is scrutinized before delving into the detailed proposal, therefore, the contents presented in the abstract and the title should be truly representative of follow-on proposed research.

The proposed budget in a grant proposal reflects how it leverages the allocated fund towards achieving the stated objectives. It is essential to make wise cost estimates in each of the categories- direct costs (consumables, labor costs, new instruments etc.) and indirect cost. Each of these items within the categories should closely reflect the market values and standards. It is important to break down the costs under each category since it is sometimes difficult to divert funds from other categories, due to regulatory reasons- for example, some grant agencies do not allow funds from consumables to be utilized for manpower.

The core idea of a grant is to propose a clear and testable hypothesis, guiding specific aims that address important research questions. It’s crucial to keep aims straightforward and realistic, avoiding overly complex statements. An Ideal Research Objective should be hypothesis-driven, innovative, realistic, and focused, doable in the requested budget and time.

A common mistake in grant applications is being too ambitious, trying to tackle multiple complex issues at once. The solution is to narrow the focus to one significant problem and delve into its underlying mechanisms. Another frequent error is overemphasizing advanced and emerging techniques in the proposal. Instead, the project should start with a clear hypothesis, and then choose the methodologies that are essential to test this hypothesis effectively.

When describing the methodology, it’s essential to demonstrate that the research team has the expertise needed for the proposed methods. Providing evidence of potential success, like preliminary results or pilot studies, can greatly strengthen the application (Cuschieri et al., 2018). The methodology should directly align with the aims of the research, with each step clearly outlining how it addresses the research questions or objectives. Organizing the methodology into work packages, each with defined tasks, milestones, and deliverables, helps illustrate the project’s timeline and organization. Deliverables should be presented in a table format for easy review, and each work package should begin once the previous one is completed, ensuring a clear and organized project plan (Weidmann et al., 2023). In assessing feasibility, it is ideal to thoroughly examine resource availability, including funding, expertise, and infrastructure, while also evaluating the suitability of proposed research methods within the constraints of time and budget. Identified risks and challenges will prompt the development of robust contingency plans, and the establishment of partnerships with stakeholders will enable resource leverage and expertise collaboration. Throughout, alignment with institutional priorities and adherence to research ethics guidelines should be maintained.

When writing a grant, always outline the main tasks and work packages, detailing what needs to be done and how long each task is expected to take. It’s helpful to include a visual timeline that shows your project’s key milestones and activities, to prove you’ve thoroughly planned every part of your proposal.


Tips for writing successful funding/grants

Maria Leptin, the President of ERC, advised that it is essential to advocate more funding for science (Gould and Leeming, 2023). To attract a grant allocation, ample time is necessary to think and design grants critically. Early preparation (2-3 months in advance) and getting critiques from relevant peers will increase the chance of winning.

Annelise Vieira, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Cornell University, mentioned several resources for plant biology and examples of successful funding in a Plantae content “Grant Writing for Plant Biologists. Similar plantae content “Research funding: 10 tips for writing a successful application” also shared such tips.

Asif Ali, a young talent researcher at Sichuan Agricultural University, who won an NSFC grant for his postdoctoral project suggests three important tips (1) 20-30% of preliminary results should be presented so that the funder does not perceive it is risky to invest in the project. (2) a candidate should have a proper budget justification awareness as reviewers will judge the budget section critically (3) having relevant research articles in your resume related to the proposed idea will help win the reviewer’s confidence.

Muhammad Qasim Shahid, an associate professor at South China Agricultural University, gave a talk entitled “Guidelines for winning NSFC funding Project”, which is very useful for early career researchers to win their first grant.

A survey was conducted among the winners of the NSFC project and the top answer for winning was a strong proposal, a strong resume, and a strong principal investigator.



  1. Cuschieri, S., Schembri-Wismayer, P., & Grech, V. (2018). WASP (Write a Scientific Paper): Writing a Research Grant–2, Drafting the Proposal. Early Human Development, 127, 109-111.
  2. Weidmann, A.E., Cadogan, C.A., Fialová, D., Hazen, A., Henman, M., Lutters, M., Okuyan, B., Paudyal, V., & Wirth, F. (2023). How to write a successful grant application: guidance provided by the European Society of Clinical Pharmacy. Int J Clin Pharm 45, 781–786
  3. Gould J, Leeming J. (2023).  A funder’s guide to tackling setbacks and winning grants. Nature.



About the Authors

Asif Ali is currently working as a Young Talent Researcher in Prof. Xianjun Wu’s Lab at Sichuan Agricultural University, Chengdu, China, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. Asif is passionate about teaching molecular biology, omics data interpretation and science communication through his YouTube tutorials. You can find him on X: @pbgasifkalas.

Amarachi Queendaline Ezeoke is a Nigerian plant scientist who holds a master’s degree in Plant Biotechnology, Physiology, and Genetics from Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, a PhD student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. She specializes in investigating the molecular mechanisms that govern plant growth in model organisms. Her research integrates molecular biology and genetics to uncover protein interactions influencing plant architecture. You can find her on X: @_kwindalyn_.

Arijit Mukherjee is presently a final-year PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. He is studying how plants and their extraordinarily diverse microorganisms influence each other’s functioning under nutrient deficiency.  You can find him on X: @ArijitM61745830.