The dos and don'ts of reading successful grant applications

Research and Innovation Development Office

Category: Research news

16 March 2016

Reading successful grant applications is a commonly recommended practice for researchers to glean wisdom from colleagues, but as Adam Golberg from the blog Cash For Questions discussed in a recent post, there's a fine line between useful takeaways and obsessive distractions.

We highly recommend reading Adam's full post and following the Cash For Questions blog, but if you don't have the time at the moment, here's some of the main points.

When reading successful grant applications, DO:

  • Get a sense of what’s required. Use the application to see the time and commitment required, and make sensible, informed decisions about your workload and priorities and whether to apply or not.
  • Understand all sections of the application, so nothing comes as a shock. This is especially important for impact, as you often need to get your ducks in a row before you even think about applying.
  • Know that success can happen. Low success rates can be demoralising, but it helps to know not only that someone, somewhere is successful, but that someone here and close by has been successful.
  • Set a benchmark to at least equal, if not exceed. Take note of the levels of clarity and detail in the successful application, especially around methods, and set a mental benchmark for your own proposal.
  • Understand grant writing style. Writing grant applications is a very different skill to writing academic papers, so observe the overall construction of the proposal and consider how you can employ this skill.
  • Get inspired by concrete ideas. Draw inspiration on how to use social media, ways to engage stakeholders, or about data management, or other kinds of issues, questions and challenges if they’re also relevant for your new proposal.


  • Blindly follow the successful application's guidelines. Most schemes, as well as funder priorities, change and evolve over time, and what works for one call might not work in another.
  • Take the successful grant application too literally. Only pay attention to what is relevant to your application- there is no need to copy every last detail (tables/diagrams used, choice of methods, amount of RA time, etc), if it does not match your project. As Adam states so eloquently: "It’s a bit like a locksmith borrowing someone else’s front door key, making as exact a replica as she can, and then expecting it to open her front door too."

The ARU Research Services Team has successful grant applications available for many funders and calls, so please just ask us if you're working on a proposal and would like to take a gander! Happy bidding!


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.