03 Useful tips for applicants when writing a grant application
Useful tips for applicants
when writing a grant application
Arts and Humanities
V2, Jan. 2016
These ‘Useful Tips’ have been collated by AHRC staff who deal with,
and process, applications on a daily basis.
Please note that when preparing an application, the notes should be
read alongside the information in the Research Funding Guides and
any relevant scheme guidance.
If you have further questions when preparing an application, the AHRC
website has details of staff who can be contacted for any queries that
are not answered by the scheme guidance documents.
For technical help in using Je-S, the dedicated Je-S help desk is
available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 01793 444164.
• read the relevant Research Funding Guide
• read the call documents
• read the Terms and Conditions
• read any instructions you have been sent
• make sure you know what is being assessed.
Academics and Research Officers are advised to
read these before contacting the office, as AHRC
staff then will be able to give a more tailored
response to an enquiry.
Writing the application
The proposal is an argument in shorthand. This shorthand should
•you understand the field of inquiry
•you have made a case for there being a lack of broader understanding
•you have explained the significance of this lack
•you have shown how the research questions/problems follow from and,
if answered/solved, will fill this lack
•you have a plan for answering the identified questions/problems
•you know what methods you will use and why they are appropriate
•you and your collaborators are well placed to undertake the work
•you are realistic about what is achievable within the timescale
•you understand how your idea sits in the context of that practice – both
through your own work and that of others
•you have demonstrated what impact the research will have to society
and the economy.
Technical Summary and Plan
A Technical Plan should be provided for all applications where digital
outputs or digital technologies are an essential part to the planned
research outcomes. A digital output or digital technology is defined as
an activity which involves the creation, gathering, collecting and/or
processing of digital information.
The Plan’s purpose is to demonstrate to the AHRC that technical
provisions within a research proposal have been adequately addressed
in terms of:
(a) delivering the planned digital output or the digital technology from a
practical and methodological perspective
(b) doing so in a way which satisfies the AHRC's requirements for
preservation and sustainability.
It must be written as a single document and has a page limit of four
pages. The level of detail provided should be proportionate to the
envisaged value and importance of the proposed digital output or
technology and to the cost of developing it.
Leadership Fellows and Research Leadership
In the Leadership Fellows scheme applicants are required to make a compelling
case for the enhancement of their research leadership role during the funding
period, including individual research leadership activities.
The Leadership Fellows should include time allocated to working with others to
develop the Fellow’s leadership role or leadership potential. The proposal should
include a substantial programme of collaborative activities which support this
leadership development, for example:
•research networking or other activities aimed at inspiring other researchers
•knowledge exchange activities
•public engagement activities
•shadowing, placements or visiting roles
•supervision of a research assistant or other ways of supporting the development
of other researchers
•working with others to produce collaborative outputs (co-authored/ edited
publications, performances, exhibitions).
Early Career Researchers
For Research Grant applications:
•In the ‘Case for Support – statement of eligibility’ applicants should
explain briefly how they meet the criteria for early career eligibility.
•Applicants are not eligible if they have already been a Principal
Applicant/Investigator on an AHRC funded project (excluding
RGPLA/Small Grants, Research Leave, Early Career Fellowships,
Fellowships in Creative and Performing Arts, and the Research Networks
and Workshops scheme).
For Leadership Fellows applications:
•A Mentor Statement from the RO must be attached.
• describe the issues, concerns and interests stimulating the work
• show that the issues, concerns and interests reflect cultural
• show that the response to these stimulants and research question is
likely to be culturally original
• make clear the relationship between the artifact(s) to be realised and
those issues, concerns, and interests – what is the research focusing
• explain the project’s originality
• indicate any knowledge, learning or insight likely to result from the
programme of work
• provide an account of methodology that suggests a self-conscious,
systematic and reflective practitioner
• state the idea as early as possible and explain why it needs to be
tackled and estimate its impact - be bold.
• Remind the reader what you have told them and tell them what you
are going to tell them, in particular explain significance.
• Use simple language and language construction – not all your
readers will be experts in the field.
• Think of all the reasons for attacking your proposal and rebuff them.
Perhaps ask others for their perspective.
• Bear in mind the time it takes to read an application - if you write so
the reviewer can get it in one go, you will be giving them more time
to consider your proposal.
• Consider a ‘Plan B’ to manage any risks associated with your
research, if there are any – and tell the reviewers what it is.
• Demonstrate that you have the expertise and experience to take the
• Demonstrate what impact the research will have on society and the
• Make clear to the reader what you want them to understand (and
• Assume the reader is an expert in the subject. Subject specialists
will be chosen to review your proposal, but panel members, who will
moderate batched proposals, may not be specialists.
• Have too many aims or objectives - the reader won’t have time to
stitch loads of objectives together with methodology, outcomes etc.
• Structure the proposal so that the reader has to wait to see the
significance of something said earlier, e.g. don’t explain how you are
going to do something before saying why you want to do it.
• Use jargon. You need to make it easy for the reader (i.e. reviewer)
to understand your idea and why it is important.
• Be over-ambitious – be realistic about what can be achieved within
the time and with the resources requested.
As an applicant, it is essential that you understand how your application
will be assessed. Please refer to the relevant sections in the Research
AHRC reviewers submit their reviews via Je-S. The form that they
complete asks them to look at:
•quality and Importance
•resources and Management
•outputs, Dissemination and Impact
Guidance for reviewers on completing these sections can be found the
AHRC website and on Je-S. Applicants wishing to know more, please
refer to the AHRC website or the Reviewer assessment section below.
The reviewers are asked by the AHRC to assess your application
according to certain assessment criteria. It will help you in the application
process if you understand what reviewers will be looking for and anticipate
any questions they might have about your idea. They will be considering
questions such as:
•How the proposal stands out? It needs to be a strong idea.
•How the research methods and stages of work will achieve your aims and
objectives? (You will need to explain the connection).
•How the research sits in context? Not only with your own research and
practice, but with other research conducted in the field.
•Why the research is important and how will it contribute to the field?
•Timescale – can you achieve your aims and objectives in the time you
The reviewers - 1
• Do you have the relevant skills to manage the project throughout its
• Do you and any collaborators have the appropriate skills and
experience to carry out the research successfully?
• What, if any, are the risks in doing this research? What activities
have you put into place or are thinking about implementing to
mitigate or manage them?
• Value for money – is the project too ambitious? Does it run the risk
of not achieving all it sets out to do? Could the outputs be more
innovative and creative? Have you justified what activities you are
going to engage in and why they are important?
• Have you demonstrated the impact that the research will have on
society and the economy?
The reviewers - 2
Principal Investigator (PI) response - 1
For schemes for which there is a moderating panel, where applications pass the
quality threshold (i.e. receive two or more reviews graded at 4, 5, or 6), the applicant
will be invited to submit a PI response to the reviews and technical assessment, if
•This allows applicants to correct any factual errors or conceptual
misunderstandings, or to respond to any queries highlighted in the comments from
•It is not intended to be an opportunity for the applicant to change or re-constitute a
proposal in light of the comments.
•The reviewer form is anonymised to ensure that a reviewer’s identity and grades are
•Applicants are not obliged to submit a response, but are encouraged to do so as
responses from applicants are forwarded to the peer review panel and are taken into
account in the grading and ranking of proposals.
•If a response is not received from the PI within the period stated, then the
application will proceed to the peer review panel without it.
If a PI considers that a response to a particular review or reviews is not
required, please include a statement to this effect in your response.
Dos and don'ts for PI Response:
•repeat reviewer comments
•re-write the application.
•aim to keep language neutral in tone, even if you feel strongly about a
•focus on answering questions and addressing any issues raised by
•aim to be specific in your comments.
Principal Investigator (PI)response - 2
•understand the overall funding context
•choose the right funding scheme for your research – make sure you and
your proposed research meets the aims and criteria of that scheme and
understand how your proposal will be assessed.
•the proposal is an argument in shorthand, it should provide a clear
summary of your research - recognise that success is all about having an
excellent project and communicating efficiently, not just effectively.
•refer to the Dos and Don’ts – top tips on what to do or not to do - when
writing an application
•assessment – understand the process and how the reviewers will assess