Department of Biology


If a scientist at a university, government agency, or hospital wishes to perform experiments, they usually must seek some kind of funding for their work. This is often true in industry as well, where scientists will write internal proposals, essentially competing with other members of the same company for research funds. While writing a grant can be challenging and time consuming, it also helps the researcher to focus and clarify her/his ideas, identify necessary resources, and design appropriate controls.

In writing a successful grant proposal you must convince the reviewer of the grant that the research experiments that you propose to perform are important, interesting, novel, and the next logical step in your field of research. This is one of the most important aspects of publicly funded research, probably second only to peer review of published literature.

As a student, you may be writing a grant to fund research with a professor at UWL, or as part of a course assignment. The basic steps are the same for both.

Before writing the Grant Proposal there are two things that require some thought:

1. Choose a Hypothesis.

This is often difficult even for experienced researchers. New experiments that have not already been performed by another research lab are not always obvious.

If you are planning to write a grant to fund actual research you should spend significant time in the library or with your faculty mentor examining and discussing the current research in your field. The surest way for a grant proposal to be rejected is to propose an experiment that has already been done.

In the classroom we will not require that your experiment be novel, although direct plagiarism will not be tolerated. You should try to think of a focused hypothesis that you would like to test that could be answered using techniques that you have learned about in your current course. Your instructor will help you either narrow down or expand your topic as needed.

2. Outline Experimental Design.

After choosing a hypothesis you will need to design an experiment to test the hypothesis. You won’t be doing the experiment prior to writing the grant; that is the whole purpose of the grant. However, you should have a well reasoned plan of how you will proceed. You need to convince the reviewers that your plan has a good chance of succeeding.

When outlining the design you should try to predict the results you would get if your hypothesis is correct, and also predict alternative results. This is important because it shows the reviewers that you have carefully thought through the experiment. You should also identify important controls.

After you have completed the outline you should identify any equipment or reagents that you will need to purchase to perform this experiment – this will be valuable when you prepare a budget.
 Writing the Grant Proposal (Examples of student grants)

Length Grants usually have a maximum page limit and require double-spaced, size 12 font.
Background / Significance In this section you should present the reviewer with the information necessary to understand what is known in your field of study and why this led you to propose this experiment. For example if you are studying a gene involved in diabetes you may need to briefly outline the disease and other genes known to be involved. This section could also include any general background information about the methods used and other work done in the field. 
Specific Aims / Objectives Identify the specific aims of the proposal. These are essentially hypotheses that you will be testing with your experiments. The specific aims should be a logical question to ask based upon the current state of the research outlined in your Background section. This can often be done in 1-2 paragraphs or with a bulleted list.
Experimental Design /
Research Methods
This will be the bulk of the grant proposal. Describe the experiments that will be performed to test your hypotheses. If you have multiple specific aims you may break this into sub-sections. This may include brief descriptions of materials and methods. Controls that will be performed should also be mentioned here.
Expected Results  Describe the results you expect from each experiment. If alternative results are possible, mention them, along with interpretations of these results. How will you know if the experiment worked?
Literature Cited 
(does not count in page limit)
List your literature cited in a standard format.

Questions Asked When Grant Proposals Are Reviewed.


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