One niche for medical writers is grant writing. Whether they are writing grant proposals to fund continuing medical education (CME) programs or to support biomedical research, grant writers are tasked with convincing funders that the project is needed now, and that their team is the best one to undertake the project on time and within budget.
Proposal writing combines persuasive writing skills and a thorough understanding of scientific literature on the topic of the proposal. This guide introduces medical writers to the essential questions all grant writers need to answer before starting a writing project.
Essential Questions for Grant Writers
WHO are you asking?
Who is the audience for the proposal? Understanding the target audience, or those who will be reviewing the proposals, helps to ensure the proposal is written with the right tone, the correct assumptions, and an accurate understanding of the scope of the funding agency. For example, foundations and federal agencies provide funding support for biomedical research, but each has a specific mission. Foundations, like The American Cancer Society or American Heart Association, have missions that address specific health issues and improving the lives of individuals with those issues. Federal agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Justice (DOJ), Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), and National Science Foundation (NSF), have missions to support innovative research with a broader focus.
WHAT are you asking for?
Does the research take a different look at an old problem or is the research examining a new problem? The grant writer’s job is to ensure that the proposal fits within the priorities of the audience (the funder). That means describing the project or program clearly and accurately and making the case for why this particular project should be awarded funding.
WHEN do you submit a grant?
What is the deadline for the proposal submission? Part of the grant writer’s job is to ensure that the entire application—the proposal as well as all of the supporting documentation that a funder requests—is submitted on time. Funders all have their own deadlines, and they won’t consider proposals submitted after a deadline. Since applications are more than just the description of the project, getting everyone who needs to provide information—from budgets to curricula vitae to the description of the proposed project—involved early in the writing process ensures that all of the components will be finished with enough time to copy edit the proposal and submit it before the deadline. It’s also important to be aware of the funder’s time zone and submit it before the deadline in their zone.
HOW do you submit a grant?
These days, all grant proposals are submitted online. As is the case with all medical writing projects, preparation is key. Before you start filling in an online form, make sure you have everything you need.
It’s important to follow funders’ guidelines. Proposals can be rejected if they don’t follow even the simple guidelines like the line spacing or margins. You don’t want a multimillion-dollar proposal to be rejected, or not even reviewed, because it doesn’t meet the requirements for the number of lines of text per vertical inch allowed or because the page margins were wrong.
The ‘Four Cs’ of Grant Writing
A grant writer’s goal is to justify why it is important to fund the project now. Often that involves telling a data story or narrative. However, that story must fit within the funder’s mission and guidelines. By keeping the 4 Cs of grant writing in mind, grant writers can play an integral part on a project’s team.
- Clear. The proposal must be understandable for the target audience, avoiding jargon and buzzwords. The level of knowledge needed to understand the proposal must accommodate the knowledge level of the funder’s reviewers. For example, if a patient advocate is on the review committee, the proposal needs to be written so the lay person can understand the proposed science.
- Concise. The proposal must fit within a specific number of pages, so every word must count, not just for controlling the word count, but also for telling the story. Leave extraneous information out of the proposal if it isn’t essential to the data story.
- Compelling. The proposal provides a data story for its reviewers. That story must captivate the reader’s attention by mixing good data with good storytelling to make a persuasive argument for why the work is important to fund now.
- Copy edited. The proposal is the team’s only means for interacting with the funder’s reviewers. Paying meticulous attention to details in the writing helps to communicate that the same attention to detail will be applied to the project. But the reverse is also true; typographical or grammatical errors may reflect poorly on the science that is being proposed.
With a mission to support research, funders task reviewers with identifying high-quality research that will have a demonstrable impact. Grant writers can play a vital role in the application process by ensuring that the application meets and exceeds the funder’s expectations.