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Our Clinical Research 101 series takes an in-depth look at key steps and tips for navigating the clinical research process. The eighth installment in our Clinical Research 101 series is by Renée Cormier (PhD, Psychology), the Director of Grants and Strategic Communications at CHÉOS. The following is an overview on how to write an effective grant application.

Dr. Cormier has 20+ years’ experience as a grant writer, grant facilitator, and health and social policy researcher. Renée is passionate about contributing her experience and enthusiasm toward working in collaboration with academics, policy makers, charitable organizations, and service providers in addressing the most pressing social and health needs of vulnerable people in our communities. 

Know Your Funder

When seeking funding for a potential research idea, it is important to determine if the project fits under the mandate of the funding agency and/or under the objectives of the funding call:

  • determine if you and/or your institution is eligible to receive funding;
  • if the funding agency is unfamiliar, read about the organization’s mission and objectives;
  • peruse the funding call’s main purpose and objectives to determine if your project aligns with the stated topics of interest or areas of priority;
  • examine past successful projects to determine if the funding agency has funded similar ideas and to understand how much funding is typically awarded;
  • consider the deadline for submitting applications to determine the likelihood of being able to develop a high quality “fundable” application in time.

Develop the One-Page Summary

The one-page summary is key to writing the research proposal and will act as a guide to organizing the information contained within the full proposal. Different funding agencies require different formats with regards to what should be included in the summary, but the basic formula is to provide the following:

  • a short one-paragraph rationale introducing the topic of interest and how the proposed project is the next logical step;
  • a goal statement which succinctly describes why the proposed study is being conducted (i.e., the main purpose);
  • a series of objectives (typically 3 to 6) which outline the specific activities that will be undertaken to achieve the main goal; and
  • a statement about the anticipated main outcomes/impact of the proposed work, linking it back to the funder’s/funding call’s main objectives.

Writing the Research Proposal

The full research proposal will follow closely the outline of the one-page summary. The format of the proposal must follow the instructions from the funding call including the use of the suggested headings and sub-headings. The CIHR format will be used as a demonstration:

  • a crucial first step is to examine the evaluation criteria to ensure that the proposal will address each criterion directly;
  • a summary page similar to the one-page summary describing a brief rationale, the goal, and the objectives will help orient the reviewer;
  • the background/literature review begins with a paragraph outlining the main topic to be addressed followed by individual paragraphs reviewing the literature related to each objective. Each paragraph should end with a sentence tying the literature to the proposed work;
  • the theoretical approach(es) underlying the proposed research must be identified, described, and justified;
  • a section highlighting the significance, innovation, and anticipated impact of the proposed work must be included taking special care to use language similar to that used in the objectives of the funding call;
  • the methodological approach should be described briefly and each objective should be re-stated followed by a detailed description of specific methods designed to address that particular objective;
  • a timeline outlining start and end dates, key milestones, deliverables, and estimates of time needed to complete the proposed research activities should be included in the proposal;
  • a knowledge translation plan outlining the key mechanisms designed to reach the target audience(s) should be included (more below);
  • the research team should be described briefly, as a whole (e.g., Canadian-US coalition; history of collaboration; expertise on topic areas; inclusion of patient partners, etc.), and each team member’s unique contribution/expertise should be outlined.

Developing a Knowledge Translation Plan

It is important to demonstrate in the research proposal how the evidence generated through the proposed work will be taken up by key stakeholders. One strategy is to use the language or model developed by the funding agency themselves. For example, if applying for CIHR funds, one can say that the project will use an integrated knowledge translation approach (iKT) and/or an end-of-grant KT approach. Key considerations when developing a KT plan include the following:

  • identify the target audiences as well as the most appropriate mechanisms for integrating their perspectives in each phase of the research;
  • the more innovative the KT plan the better as it should be designed to reach as broad and diverse an audience as possible;
  • be sure to consider the costs associated with the KT plan, as these can comprise a significant portion of the budget.

Seeking Feedback

The importance of asking a colleague or experienced grant writer to read over your proposal and to provide critical feedback cannot be overstated. A second, third, or fourth pair of eyes is invaluable to the process of grant writing. A colleague working in a similar area can be a great resource, and grant facilitation is usually available through most departments, faculties, or research organizations. Additionally, UBC-affiliated investigators are eligible to receive excellent grant-writing support through the Support Programs to Advance Research Capacity (SPARC) office at UBC.

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