Guest blog, Top tips

Guest Blog – Early career reflections on writing grant applications

Dr Holly Walton sharing tips from the UCL ThinkWrite grant writing workshop.

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After starting my first postdoctoral research position in August 2018, I felt that there was no time like the present to start thinking about developing my skills to write a grant application! As this is a daunting prospect for someone who has little experience in writing grant proposals (PhD application aside), I was delighted to find a course at my university which focused on writing your first grant proposal which was specifically aimed at early career researchers.

First of all, I would first like to say a huge thank you to UCL’s collaborative social science domain (@UCL_Social_Sci) for hosting the course on grant writing and to ThinkWrite (@ThinkWrite | for facilitating the course.

I have attended many of the ThinkWrite courses throughout my PhD and they have always provide a really helpful insight into writing and in particular how to structure your writing. This course was no different. I found it really helpful and it helped me to see that by planning efficiently and by breaking the grant writing process into targeted chunks, the process may not be as daunting as it first seemed.

At the start of the day we were given an introduction to grant applications but the main part of the day was spent thinking about an idea for a grant application. Before the course, we were asked to take along an idea for a grant application along with any information provided by our chosen funder. We then worked in our tables (groups of four) to develop one of our team member’s ideas further and put together a mock grant presentation. I am still a while away from submitting a grant application but I felt that this process was really helpful in prompting me to think about the type of research that I might like to pursue in future and getting some feedback on initial ideas. Helping another team member to develop their ideas also helped me to realise that whilst grant writing would take a long time, it was certainly manageable!

I learnt many handy tips for writing grant proposals throughout the day and so I wanted to share the ones that I found most helpful in this blog:

  1. There are many different funders (e.g. research councils, charities, private sector) and so it is really important to do your research and to find the one that most closely aligns with your research interests and goals.
  2. Make sure that your research proposal focuses on SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) actionable activities rather than ideas
  3. Take time to look at the funding call in more detail and break it down into the exact items that they require (e.g. a plain English summary – xx characters). This will give you a sense of how much space you have for different parts of the grant application and exactly what they are looking for.
  4. Plan and structure your grant application before writing it to make sure that you are prioritising the key aspects of your application, giving them the information that they need and avoiding unnecessary repetition
  5. Think about the benefits of your research for both yourself and knowledge but also for the funder
  6. Make sure that costs are realistic, are based on funding guidelines and meet the requirements of the funder
  7. Write in a clear and understandable way
  8. Pay attention to the small details (e.g. margin sizes, spellings and word count) and make sure that you meet these requirements!
  9. Ask for feedback from colleagues and people not involved in the grant to make sure that it all makes sense and that your ideas are fully developed.
  10. Perhaps most importantly, give yourself plenty of time so that your application is not rushed and so that the funders will see that you have put a lot of care into your application.

I think the main thing that the course made me realise though is that it is never too early to start thinking about your grant application as good ideas take time to develop.

I would highly recommend everyone to check if their university offers similar courses for early career researchers (and if they don’t – why not suggest it!). Attending this course definitely helped me to swap my worries about writing grants for keenness to give it a go!

Editors Note:

We collate and share all the funding opportunities on our website, to see them all click here. We also recorded a podcast on this topic, which you can listen to below:



Dr Holly Walton is a Research Fellow in the Department of Applied Health Research at University College London. Holly currently works on the Coordinated Care of Rare diseases study. Holly completed her Economic and Social Research council funded PhD in December 2018. Holly’s PhD research focused on evaluating the implementation of social interventions to improve independence in dementia.

You can follow Holly on Twitter         

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