How to Write a Successful Grant Proposal

You’re passionate about your research. Your work is crucial for scientific discovery and deserves to be carried out. We know that, and we love what you’re doing. So why can it be so challenging for academic researchers to obtain research funding? At Nicoya, we speak with researchers all over the world. We hear the same story about an amazing research project that can’t get funded. A worthy research proposal might not even get read by a reviewer if it lacks key elements stated in the grant requirements. Or, a well-structured grant proposal can fall short if the project isn’t a good fit for the grant that it was submitted to.

At Nicoya, we aim to improve human life by helping scientists succeed. We’re here to help you write a successful grant proposal to bring your next big idea to life. From grant prospecting to grant submission, we did our research to provide insight on each stage of the grant writing process. Let’s start at the beginning and choose the right grant for your project!

Choosing The Right Grant

If you’ve looked for academic funding before, you know that there is an alarming amount of publicly funded grants available. This overwhelming process is a lot easier when you know what you’re looking for. Before diving into open grants, take some time to identify the needs and focus of your research:

What will your research accomplish? Who directly benefits from the outcome of your research? This might sound like an obvious tip, but having a clear picture of the significance of your research will make it much easier to filter by the right research area. Choosing an appropriate audience from the beginning will also significantly increase your chances of success.

What are your credentials? If you’re a newer researcher, there are funding opportunities specifically tailored for you! These grants usually come with smaller budgets and timelines to help you get started. Alternatively, if you are a distinguished professor, you likely have a full team to support and a long project to carry out. This means that you will need a more competitive grant that offers significant funding and multiple years of support. Luckily, your previous experiences have set the stage for you to take on a larger project. Think about what size of budget and timeline fits well with your current career stage to help you be more selective of different grants.

So where should you look? If you’re based in the United States, here are some great places to start:

  • – A great general search engine that captures grant announcements from a number of different funding agencies.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The largest funding body in the country. This page also includes important due dates associated with each grant.

If you are based in Canada, check out the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). NSERC is the major funding source in Canada for natural science researchers – students and professors alike.

Writing The Research Funding Proposal

Now that you have selected some grants that fit your research and needs, it’s time to start working on the application. The next thing you should do – and I cannot stress this enough – is read through the grant application guidelines( These guidelines will cover the elements required in your proposal, the questions that the reviewers want answered, and how the application should be structured. We’ve summarized some tips for the most common elements of a proposal in a format that you can keep handy for later:

Title Page

  • Carefully follow your grant guidelines here for what information to include and how it should be formatted.
  • In addition to a clear, explicit title, other elements such as your title, affiliations, and the funding agency are usually required as well.


  • The most read section of your research funding proposal (The Writing Center, UNC).
  • Be explicit, clear and concise. Make your project’s goals, significance (who does your research benefit?), and relation to the theme of the grant easy to find!
  • Use future tense to summarize your plan to accomplish your goals.


  • Use this section to elaborate on everything you have stated in the abstract.
  • Set the stage for your research: give a background on the research area, the knowledge gap you are addressing, and how your research is going to fill that gap. Start very general about the area of research and get increasingly more specific.
  • Your introduction should sufficiently justify why your research is a good fit for this grant.

 Project Narrative

  • The main section of your proposal. There is a lot of information here so organize your information into subheadings as necessary.
  • Elaborate on the problem you’re addressing and its significance again – this is why the funding agency is giving you money after all.
  • Break down step by step how you’re planning to solve this problem and justify each step. The more thorough you can be here, the more confidence your reviewer will have in you.
  • Focus on techniques that will provide quantitative data to back your claims. Using surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to measure binding kinetics for any biomolecular interactions will significantly increase your credibility to a reviewer. Check out The Power of OpenSPR below to see how easily SPR can be included in your proposal.
  • Finally, recheck your grant guidelines! Make sure that every question the reviewers had was answered sufficiently.


  • The more specific you can be about how you plan to spend the money, the more credibility you will have.
  • Include an itemized list of each anticipated expense. Think about instrument requirements, reagents, travel expenses, and personnel wages.
  • Also, include a budget narrative explaining why each expense is crucial to your project and worth the funding agency’s money (The Writing Center, UNC).
  • Follow the funding agency’s regulations closely here. Do your research to see what purchases they don’t cover and their limits around items such as air travel.


  • Justify the time frame of your project and set some approximate deadlines for the various stages of your project.
  • Using an itemized list or a visual representation of your timeline will keep your reviewers happy here (The Writing Center, UNC).

Cover Letter

  • The bonus section! A cover letter likely is not explicitly required but is highly recommended (The Balance; Kurzweil Educational Systems, 2002).
  • Treat this like the cover letter on your resume; its purpose is to sell your project.
  • Introduce your research group, highlight the significance of your project, and state the budget you are requesting.

These are just some of the elements that are normally required in a grant application. Each grant application will have its required elements and structure, so follow your grant guidelines meticulously.

Taking Your Research Funding Proposal To The Next Level

Congratulations! You now have a draft of your proposal completed. Stretch your legs, grab a cup of coffee and settle in as we highlight a few more tips to increase the chances of getting your project funded substantially.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. While quality is better than quantity, applying for multiple grants will give you more opportunities to get funded. Since these proposals are incredibly time-consuming, write a general grant application for your project and then tailor it to each funding body.

Know your audience. It doesn’t matter how impactful your research is if it isn’t a good fit for the funding agency you’re applying to. The goals of your research should always circle back to the overall theme of the grant. This may require some rewording of your research outcomes to align better with the views of the funding agency. Check out our tips on publication writing for more advice on writing for your audience.

Use innovative techniques. As technology advances, so should your research techniques. For instance, using SPR to measure quantitative binding kinetics for your bio-molecular interactions will give you a huge advantage against your competitors. Since the OpenSPR is affordable and easy-to-use, we’ve had many researchers use the OpenSPR as leverage to get their grants approved. Check out The Power of OpenSPR below to see how easily SPR can be included in your proposal.

Review, review, review. Plenty of eyes should see your research funding proposal before the reviewers do. Consider getting your work reviewed by experts and non-experts in your field. It is also recommended to have a writing expert review your work for structure and style. If you let your proposal sit for a week and then pick it up again, you will be able to catch more mistakes with fresh eyes.

Read your grant requirements. Have we mentioned this already? A funding agency’s first screening of your proposal will be to see if you have followed their instructions. Just sticking to their guidelines will significantly increase your chances of success (; The Writing Center, UNC).

The Power of OpenSPR

With the finishing touches added to your award-winning grant proposal, we wanted to leave you with some closing thoughts on the difference SPR will make in your research. More and more reviewers (funding agencies and academic journals alike) are asking for quantitative binding kinetics data over simple yes/no binding confirmation for biomolecular interactions. SPR is a label-free technique that gets you this data in real-time and has never been more accessible with the OpenSPR. Your reviewers are going to love that you’ve chosen an instrument that provides the same quality of data of instruments over ten times its cost.

Let us help you take your grant proposal to the next level.

Request a quote today to see how easily the OpenSPR can be budgeted into your next project.



  1. The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!). Retrieved from
  2. Grants 101 – Pre-Award Phase. Retrieved from
  3. The Balance. How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal. Retrieved from
  4. Kurzweil Educational Systems (2002). Sample Grant Proposal. Retrieved from
  5. Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT). Funding Facts. Retrieved from