David A. Stone (director of the Office of Sponsored Projects at Northern Illinois University), writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article entitled “How Your Grant Proposal Compares,” suggests that “positioning” as much as “a good idea” distinguishes the successful grant application: “Sure, good ideas are an essential ingredient of any external grant proposal, but however necessary, they’re not enough to ensure you’ll get the money. To stand a fighting chance, the ideas in your project must be both good and well positioned relative to other grant proposals.”
Stone suggests that faculty applying for grants pay attention to context, big players, a good track record, integrating teaching and service, and dissemination in order to succeed in grant applications. Some excerpts from Stone’s article:
Context is everything. The ideas that win grant money are those that are most well positioned in the literature. All successful grant proposals must demonstrate how their central idea arises from and speaks to ideas and efforts that have come before. . .
Know the big players. In one sense, the best-positioned grant proposals are those written by the key players whose research findings, strategies, publications, and other dissemination efforts allow them to be the framers of the nature and scope of the problem, and to be recognized by their peers as key contributors to its solution. Their grant proposals authoritatively stake out the contours of the problem and offer what are recognized by reviewers as the most likely solutions. . .
Have a good track record. A well-positioned proposal has a principal investigator (PI) and a research team with a strong track record of attracting money from recognized and prestigious sources; of using those grants to produce findings with recognized impacts; of getting published in well-regarded journals; and of demonstrating frequent subsequent citation of their work. A well-written proposal makes the strong positioning of the PI and the research team clear to members of the review committee. . .
Integrate teaching and service into research proposals. The reach of well-positioned proposals extends beyond the scientific exercise itself. The clear expectation among grant agencies, large and small, is that research projects make an impact on the world around them. Two ways in which that can be demonstrated in a proposal are to reference integration of the project with teaching and service. . .
Disseminate your ideas. Well-positioned proposals demonstrate how the important findings will make their way out into the world. Of course that means publishing results in top journals. But beyond publishing, researchers can position their proposals by demonstrating that they are plugged in to groups, organizations, societies, or other conduits through which the findings will reach audiences who have some capacity to do something with them. A project is even better positioned if it can demonstrate that much of its impetus stems from ongoing, productive relationships with groups dealing with the very problems that the proposed study would explore. . .
The article is available on line to Chronicle subscribers.