Faculty and Research

Grant Writing Tips

SPECIFIC AIMS

  • Limit to one page, usually
  • General brief statements (one or two short paragraphs)
    • Long-term goal
    • Background, specific questions
    • Specific goal for this proposal
    • Why this goal (i.e., what is not known)
  • Clearly state the overall "Testable" hypothesis (inherent assumption that the hypothesis may not be valid) It is important to make a distinction between long-term goal, specific goal, hypothesis and specific aims. They are linked and should logically flow from one to another.
  • Aims are to test the hypothesis proposed
  • List the aims: Aim 1 ..Aim2 etc
  • Aims to test specific hypothesis (e.g., the aim 1 is to test the hypothesis …… This hypothesis will be tested by determining the effect of X on Y, or whether X activates/inhibits Y.)
  • The # of aims dependent on years of support requested. Avoid "Too Ambitious" plan- aims should be achievable within the requested funding period.
  • Aims should be related but independent of the outcome of previous aims. For example, make sure that Aim 2 that is not completely dependent on a specific outcome of aim1. If this is necessary, make sure you have alternative plans
  • Characteristics of specific aims section
    • Two to five (max)
    • Brief, focused and limited in scope
    • Conceptual, not descriptive
    • Each must flow logically into the next
    • Must collectively test the central hypothesis
    • None should be absolutely dependent on the outcome of another

BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE (Why you want to do what you propose to do?)

  • Important points
    • Critically evaluate existing knowledge
    • Specifically identify the GAPS that you are trying to fill
    • State succinctly the importance of the research by relating the specific aims to the objective and long term goal of the proposal
  • Critical evaluation & Gaps
    • Broad background of the field (a paragraph) stating the areas lacking better understanding
    • State specific background related to specific aims. Why these specific aims are the most important ones?
    • The rationale for the proposed hypothesis for each specific aim should be developed here with up to date citations. Refer to preliminary data supporting your hypothesis.
    • In general, it is a good idea to bring up controversial issues. But bring up controversial issues only if you are planning to resolve the controversy-pros and cons?
    • Do not bring up issues without commenting on why you do or do not want to pursue the issues.
    • Make a list of abbreviations used, if too many.
    • Use diagram, when appropriate, to explain the hypothesis
  • Significance: summarize in one paragraph how the proposed studies would
    • move the field forward by filling the stated gaps,
    • provide better understanding,
    • lead to better therapy, etc.
  • Examples:
    • These results underscore the importance of ………
    • The most likely explanation is …….However, other possibilities, such as …, can not be ruled out. To begin to define the mechanism, we will first test the most likely hypothesis.
    • The feasibility of this hypothesis is supported by our preliminary data.
    • The reason for this controversy may be a), b) or c), and we propose studies to test these alternative explanations.
    • The lack of progress in this field was due to unavailability of "specific method, model, reagents", etc.

We have now developed and validated the model or we have established the method in our lab (refer to preliminary data). With the availability of "X", it is now possible to address these questions. f. Try to state the innovative aspect of the proposal in this section. Some write a separate paragraph. g. Significance: These studies have the potential to unravel the pathophysiological basis of diseases X. The proposed hypothesis, if proven correct, can lead to better therapy, provide a better understanding, uncover a novel mechanism, etc.

PRELIMINARY STUDIES/FEASIBILITY STUDIES

  • 1. Purpose:
    • To establish the experience and competence of the PI to carry out the proposed project.
    • To demonstrate feasibility of the proposed hypothesis/methods
  • 2. Details:
    • Provide, if possible, preliminary data for each specific aim.
    • Preliminary data could be model validation, new finding requiring further exploration or results consistent with the proposed hypothesis.
    • Refer to publications, preferably your own, to demonstrate feasibility, if preliminary data is not available
    • Describe overall rationale/design briefly. For example, studies were conducted in an experimental model (cell line, animals) to determine whether Ntcp is nitrosylated, tri-methylation is affected by gender or vital stain can detect apoptosis, or to compare morphometric features in cats with and without HCM.
    • Describe only the results with figures without giving details of the methods in this section. For example, immunoblot/immunofluorescence/x analysis showed.. f. Describe results of positive/negative controls, cell viability, any unexpected effect observed, etc. g. Relate each study to the feasibility of specific aims proposed. For example, these results are consistent with the hypothesis proposed in specific aim x, or show that X is a valid model to test the hypothesis.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN AND METHODS

  • Goal:
    • How do you propose to test your hypothesis or answer your question?
    • What are your expected results and the significance of these results to the overall project?
    • What could go wrong and what would be alternative approaches?
  • General outline (the order depends on the complexity of the proposed studies:
    • Experimental models (animals, cell lines, reagents, justify if needed)
    • Methods to be used (refer to your publication if applicable, otherwise describe the method with appropriate controls)
    • Experimental design (Main component)
  • Details
    • Describe "experimental design for each specific aim and in the order presented under "Specific aim" section.
    • Follow the following order for each aim:
      • Title (verbatim of sp. Aim)
      • Introduction (objective, working hypothesis, brief rationale- If our hypothesis is correct then X should do Y, or following studies will be conducted to test the hypothesis
      • Subtitle for each study proposed (could be in the form of a question, this should follow from the "introduction" before, e.g. does X do Y?)
      • Describe the design with number of replicates, control & experimental groups, treatment schedule, sampling time, parameter to be measured, data analysis. Use diagrams for complicated design.
      • Expected outcome for each study or for the studies. (The hypothesis will be supported if ……)
      • Potential problem and alternative approaches (anticipate technical problem and suggest alternative approaches, propose alternative hypothesis, if proposed hypothesis is proven wrong)
    • Do not describe methods in the experimental design section.
    • Be sure to include appropriate controls, and if necessary, point this out. For example, cell treated with X will serve as a negative control.
    • It may be useful to include a flow diagram to explain the experimental design.
    • If referring to preliminary data, give the fig. #.
    • Expected outcome: based on preliminary data we expect Ntcp to be nitrosylated. We expect to find …… Such findings would support the proposed hypothesis.
    • Refer to preliminary data or your publication to show that you are familiar with the experimental design and/or methods proposed. For example, we do not anticipate any problem with this specific aim, as all the methods are already established and all the reagents are at hand (or we have used this method or conducted similar experiments in the past).
    • Potential problems: Address alternative method, if the proposed method is not satisfactory. In the unlikely event that data do not support our hypothesis, we will pursue the following alternative hypothesis… describe the hypothesis……

KEY POINTS FOR BUDGET JUSTIFICATION

  • Personnel: Include % effort and the role on the project for all personnel listed. For technicians, include specifically their duties. The reviewers usually look at the total FTE (Full time effort) requested and then evaluate whether the requested FTE is needed for the proposed studies.
  • Equipment: Should cost more than $5,000 and must be used almost exclusively for the studies proposed. If the equipment will be shared ask for that % that will be used for the project.
  • Supplies: Include major categories, such as special reagents, radioisotope, cell culture supplies, general lab supplies, etc
  • Travel. It is common to ask for fund to attend at least one scientific meeting per year for the PI/coinvestigtaors/postdocs.
  • Other expenses: These usually include publication cost, service contracts for equipment, fee for service, etc.
  • Consultant cost: Usually for people from outside the applicant institution.