How to Write a Successful NIH Grant Application

NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offers an on-line guide to effective writing:

Inside Higher Ed: Scholarly Publishing

Three articles in Inside Higher Ed today came to our attention.

The controversial proposed law originating in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the Research Works Act, which would have prohibited the government from requiring open access publication of studies funded by the federal government, lost a key supporter, Elsevier Publishing and has been withdrawn by the bill’s co-sponsors. Steven Kolowich’s “A Significant Flinch” reports on the controversy and the fate of the bill, reminding readers that Elsevier’s support, crucial for the success of the bill, evaporated after a substantial global boycott of the mega-publisher.

Felicia LeClere’s essay “Grant Review Panels as Prom Committees,” despite its snarky title, extolls what she has observed while serving on grant review committees, suggesting that review panels work fairly more often than not.

And what about the anonymous reviewers of journal article manuscripts? Brian Rathbun’s “Dear Reviewers, a Word?” speaks to them, asking them to temper their rejections.

The Professor Is In

Karen L. Kelsky is The Professor of TheProfessorIsIn, a Web site that augments Kelsky’s consulting practice as an advisor to advanced doctoral students and junior faculty. She came to my attention through her essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees,” in which she laments the lack of robust professional advising in graduate school.

Or to put it succinctly in Long’s Axiom: Graduate school prepares you . . . for graduate school.

The Web site offers a variety of suggestions on applying for academic jobs, writing, publishing, grant applications and related professional topics. It is now available through our “blinks” section.

Inside Higher Ed: Women Lag on NIH Renewal Rates

A brief item in today’s Inside Higher Ed:

There are relatively few differences in the success rates of women and men who apply for grants from the National Institutes of Health, according to a new study in Academic Medicine. But on grants after a first successful application, men are more likely than women to apply and to receive funding.

NINR Stats/2010

Recent federal budget cuts and proposed future cuts will have a cascading effect on what has already been a challenging season for nurse researchers. According to NINR’s stats for last year, few grant applications were approved. Word on the street is that all NIH funding mechanisms have pulled back for fear that three-year or five-year awards would not have the funds available to complete them.

Activity Code

Number of Applications Reviewed

Number of Applications Awarded

Success Rate3

Total Funding4


























Mechanism Total




























































Mechanism Total










Mechanism Total





NLN’s FREE Preparing GrantsWorkshop

Attend the NLN’s FREE Technical Assistance Workshop for Preparing Grants

Designed for both novice and experienced grant seekers, this workshop provides an update on the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, a special grant program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and programs administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Nursing.

Techniques for writing successful proposals will be discussed and participants will gain a better understanding of grant-funded opportunities to support faculty development, strengthen program capacity, and enhance new technologies.

Trinitas School of Nursing, NLN Center of Excellence, 2008-2011, Elizabeth, New Jersey

April 26, 2010, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm (Funding provided by Laerdal Medical Corporation)


  • Identify funding opportunities through the Division of Nursing.
  • Understand the grant writing process.
  • Describe guidelines for preparing federal grants.
  • Apply grant writing techniques to develop a grant.


  • E. Michele Richardson, MS, BSN, RN, Director, US Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA, Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Nursing
  • Aisha Mix, MPH, MSN, RN, CCM, Lieutenant Commander, US Public Health Services, Lead Consultant, Nursing Workforce Diversity Program, HRSA
  • Susan Bakewell-Sachs, PhD, RN, APRN, BC
  • Carol Kuser Loser Dean and Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science, the College of New Jersey Program

This workshop is limited to 40 participants.

For more information and to register:  

The NLN offers continuing education credits for all its faculty development programs through IACET.

Writing Tip: Audience

In a continuing career advice series in Inside Higher Ed, Mary W. Walters reminds us:

In writing, it is easy to overlook the principles we are able to put to use so effectively in our daily lives. When we are developing a funding application — or working on a journal article or a textbook chapter for that matter — our audiences can seem invisible to us. We may become so involved in explaining what detailed convolutions brought us to our current research crossroads that we fail to take our prospective readers into consideration. What do they already know about this subject? What is it possible that they do not know? How can we make the information we are trying to convey more useful — and relevant, and interesting — to them?

As most of us know (from reading other people’s writing), scholars who ignore their readers are at risk of using language that no one outside their research niche can understand.

Walters is the author of Write an Effective Funding Application: A Guide for Researchers and Scholars (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

The article, “Know Your Audience,” is available on line in this open access publication.

Inside Higher Ed: Ground Breaking Science Unfunded

According to the article “Risky Business” by Jack Stripling in Inside Higher Ed:

Some of history’s major scientific and technological breakthroughs started as research projects with little promise of bearing fruit, but funding for “high risk, high reward” research has always been difficult to secure. In an economic downturn, finding money for these projects is likely to be even more challenging. . . .

The problem, however, is that researchers seldom have the freedom to pursue big ideas that don’t fit neatly into grant proposals for the National Institutes of Health or other funding agencies, panelists told the subcommittee. Moreover, they often lack funding to investigate whether the germ of a big idea has promise. The well-known mantra for researchers, therefore, is “don’t put it in your grant proposal unless you know it will work,” said [Neal] Lane, former director of the National Science Foundation.

The complete article is available on line.

Chronicle: How to Write an Outreach Grant Proposal

In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Karen M. Markin (director of research development at the University of Rhode Island’s research office) offers guidance on writing a successful outreach grant application:

  1. Identify the problem or need;
  2. define general goals and specific objectives;
  3. provide a road map for how the objectives will be achieved;
  4. explain how will you organize and manage the activity;
  5. describe the process whereby you will evaluate outcomes.

Excerpts here:

Writing a grant for community or “outreach” activities is different from writing a research grant. In a scientific grant proposal, it is understood that researchers are exploring new realms and cannot know exactly what they will encounter. That’s the definition of basic science, and delving into the unknown is what makes it exciting.

In contrast, an outreach grant proposal represents a road map for a project in which the applicants know where they are going and how to get there, and anticipates bumps in the road.

Foundations and agencies that support outreach programs want to see their money make a difference. . .

Establishing the need for the work you propose is an essential first step. While a scientific-research project usually doesn’t have to identify practical applications for the work, an outreach proposal must show the existence of a problem that needs to be remedied. A strong “statement of need,” as it is sometimes called in the application, lists specific problems and supports those claims with documentation. It is akin to the significance section of a research proposal. The U.S. Department of Education’s Web site provides several examples of successful proposals that include detailed need statements. . . .

The terms “goals” and “objectives” may seem interchangeable, but there is an important distinction between them in a grant proposal, particularly in a results-oriented outreach grant.

A goal is the situation you want to achieve in the long run. World peace is an example of a lofty goal. But no one will give you money to pursue world peace. Instead, you must identify some concrete results you can achieve during the grant period that will take the world a few steps closer to that ideal. . . .

The next component common to outreach grants is a work plan. That is a detailed description of the activities that will lead you to your goals and objectives. It is similar to the methods section of a scientific-research proposal but more detailed with regard to what you will do and when. In a scientific proposal, you need not explain each standard laboratory technique in detail. But an outreach grant often involves describing unique and innovative activities. . . .

Who will do the recruiting and training? Who will reserve the space? Those questions need to be answered in a section usually called the management plan. Here again, you will need to provide more detail about the project leadership than you would in a scientific proposal. . . .

Outreach grants are about results. Careers of individual program officers as well as future support for a given program can depend on how well current grantees perform. Most likely you will be asked to include an evaluation plan in your proposal so you can document whether you have been successful.

Evaluation conducted at the end of a project is called “summative evaluation” in education-related grants. Demonstrate your success by showing your achievement of the measurable objectives listed at the beginning of the proposal.

The full article is available on line to subscribers.

Interpreting New NIH Review Scores

Grant applicants my be confused about the meaning of the National Institutes of Health grant review scoring system. The NIH Office of Extramural Research now offers Help Interpreting the New Review Scores.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96 other followers