And How Can I Fix It?
Learn What Your Reviewer Wants and How to Give it to Him (or Her) in Your Next Proposal
Are you frustrated with reviewer comments?
Do you wonder just what it is that will get your reviewer’s attention and avoid another rejection?
The answer is simpler than you think (drumroll please ….) – your reviewers want a simple and clear explanation of your work. I bet you already knew that.
Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered in writing my own grants and helping others with theirs, getting to that simple and clear explanation can be very difficult. Most clients I’ve worked with over complicate things, making their proposals dense, full of facts and difficult to read. But, you may ask: isn’t it all about the facts?
It’s Not About The Facts
(I’ll bet you saw that one coming …) Yes, your science and the facts behind it are critically important for your proposal. But, before you even get to the facts you must do something else – get your reviewer excited about your work! When your reviewer reads the first paragraph of your proposal, what is their response?
If it’s enthusiasm, you’re at least 80% of the way to success.
If it’s frustration, worry, concern, or doubt, you’re -80% of the way to success.
Your Writing Affects Your Reviewer’s Response
Again, a no brainer there. But time and time again, I’ve seen proposals bogged down immediately by the first reactions produced by the writing.
If your reviewer starts out frustrated, they will dutifully go on reading your proposal, looking for and documenting reasons to support their dislike. This is where all those nit-picky comments come from when your proposal is rejected.
However, if your reviewer starts out excited, they will also go on reading, this time looking for and documenting reasons why they like it.
The Art of Writing Is Critical
The good news is that it IS POSSIBLE to learn the art of clear and persuasive writing. In fact, it is CRITICAL if you want funding today.
In the Olden Days when my father was doing science, if you were doing good science and were willing to be just a bit persistent with your grant revisions, your funding was likely after a few attempts.
What this meant is that you didn’t have to be an “expert” at writing proposals, just an expert at doing your research. However, with the marked increase in number of grants submitted, combined with steady or declining budgets, success rates for grant applications were reduced from 27% in 2001 to 16% in 2015.* At the same time, many research institutions haveover-built and over-hired, increasing the competition. As a result, the “amateur grant writer” approach has become a sure way to fail. Expertise in the writing itself is now a mandatory foundation if you want sustainable funding for a sustainable career.
Your Reviewer Is Not The Lottery
Many faculty think they should “just play the lottery more,” i.e. submitting more and more proposals until one finally “bites.”(1) While a senior researcher with an established reputation and momentum may be able to get enough funding by submitting enough “weekend warrior” proposals, those without a big name or substantial momentum get lost in a sea of rejections. In some cases, it leads to career suicide.(2) Even senior faculty are struggling to maintain funding with this approach.
“The Lottery” approach only works if all proposals in the mix are of similar overall quality. However, with large differences in quality, clarity, and other attributes, it is instead a strongly-weighted lottery in the favor of those who have either: 1) A big reputation in the field and/or 2) A deep expertise in how to write very persuasively (with the research chops to back it up).
If you don’t have a big reputation, then you’ll want to work on point #2 – increase the QUALITY of your proposal through persuasive writing combined with good science.
Getting Deep Expertise Isn’t Easy, But It Is Rewarding
Everyone is so busy that almost nobody has had the time to deeply study the science and art of persuasion and clarity – much less to spend the necessary time with trainees to pass on any such knowledge.
While there are some older resources on what worked in the pre-2000’s, those have not kept up. And short workshops are not enough to change deep skills and habits. Becoming an expert in great proposal writing isn’t about theory, it is about skills development.
It unfortunately falls on the shoulders of the individual researcher to gain their own skills and expertise in writing compelling proposals – at least if they want to have a good shot at funding. This takes time, commitment, and sometimes money.
Learning to write clearly and persuasively is a skill that can be learned by anyone. And the payoff of developing this skill is lowering the stress of the writing process, greatly increasing your chances of successful funding, and being able to actually DO THE SCIENCE that you signed up for when you went into this crazy thing call academic research!
Not Just for Early Career Folks
Sometimes, I interact with senior faculty who have a history of funding, but lately have been struggling, or they have been unable to maintain consistent funding. They are often embarrassed to ask for help, because they think “I should have this figured out by now!”
If this is you, I ask .. How much time and effort have you invested in honing your grant writing skills? I don’t mean how much time you spent writing grants but instead – how much time in studying and practicing the skills of persuasive writing? In my experience very few academics have truly figured out how to write powerful grants and senior academics aren’t any exception – because until about 10 years ago, you didn’t need this skill to maintain funding.
Why Start Here
I have spent the time to go deeply into what it takes to wow your reviewer. I have trained over 300 researchers like you in how to write proposals in a way that is persuasive, fun, and interesting. My trainings have resulted in multiple perfect-scoring R01 grants, and 10’s of millions in funding for research (it has been so many I have lost track). All my trainings are based on my own successful track record of funding up until I stopped writing grants for myself in 2011 (to avoid competing with my clients).
If you want to join your successful colleagues in taking learn how to take your ability to the next level of expertise, clarity, and success, you’re in the right place.
Fortunately, it’s free to you right now to get help
After years of working with clients and studying what works and what doesn’t, I distilled it all down into one training that is going to help you step up your game in a way that is fun and compelling. Don’t worry, I don’t teach the same old boring crap like “read and follow the instructions.”
This training, “What’s Wrong With My Grant? And How To Fix It” is at no cost to you to attend. However, there is one catch: you only have a limited number of days to watch it. I do this simply because most people think “I’ll get around to that later” and then, never do. By giving you a deadline, you have an incentive to set aside the time to go through this.
In this training, I walk you through The Critical Path To Funding – 5 essential steps to pay attention to in any research proposal. These are based on seven years of working with clients (plus my own funding track record), and are things that even many senior researchers overlook.
Plan on spending 90-120 minutes to attend. If you want deeper follow-up help at that point, I’ll tell you how to get it.
What This Training Is About
If you are serious about getting your research funded (and I know you are), you'll want to know how to present your ideas clearly and persuasively. We'll bust through 3 Grant Writing Myths, and cover what reviewers are looking for, such as:
- The Hidden "Landmines" of reviewer expectations
- How to get your reviewer excited about your work in the first 5 minutes
- Why reviewer feedback often masks the Real Reason they didn't like your proposal
We’ll also go over a case study of a perfect scoring R01 (Yes - They Do Exist!) and what you can do now to ensure your proposal is discussed and scored, for example:
- How to up your proposal's value in the reviewer's mind
- What a persuasive proposal looks like
- Traps and pitfalls to avoid in your writing
Your reviewers don't have time to wade through unclear writing to uncover the great science underneath. But if you spend some time learning great writing skills, funding is possible, even in today's climate.
Who I Am
I started as an assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill in 2002 who was struggling with grants. My first six grant proposals were rejected, until I found a mentor who worked with me intensively to turn it around. Starting in early 2005, I received my first R01 award on the first round of submission, and from then until 2010 I received three more R01's without any rejections of my R01 proposals. Furthermore, I wrote a successful "Grand Opportunities/RC2" proposal in 2009, and co-led the writing of a successful U24 proposal in 2010 that brought in over $8M for our team. As well, I participated in numerous smaller grants that were awarded. At last count, I participated in writing for over $23.1 million in successful proposals as PI/Co-PI/Co-Investigator (not including large awards I was only peripherally involved in).
In 2010, I started shifting towards helping others with grant writing, through consulting and training. This coincided with leaving UNC-CH as a tenured professor in 2010 with over $1M/year in funding at the time. I now focus on mentoring and training researchers as my only full-time profession.
- It's a bit like the "random fishing" approach where one trolls a large lake, just randomly throwing in the line to try to find fish. Expert fishers on the other hand learn to go where the fish are, what the fish are eating, and they go there. ↩︎
- While I don't have statistics on this, I have firsthand experience with several clients coming to me for help when it was "too late" - they'd already submitted 10's of failed proposals, had tarnished their reputations, were out of funding, and out of time. ↩︎
*This statistic is from https://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2016/05/26/grant-renewal-success-rates-then-and-now/