The essentials for writing scientific grants

If you are a scientist in research, you will have heard about grants. Depending on your role, you may have been in charge of the application or may have had nothing to do with it. Whatever the case may be, we will go through what a grant actually is, the different types that exist and the best practices for writing a grant.

Essentials for writing scientific grants

  • What is a grant?
  • What types of grant are there?
  • The writing itself
  • Additional tips

What is a grant?

A grant is defined as a non-repayable fund or resource that is disbursed by one party to the recipient. The funders may be governments, corporations, foundations or trusts. The recipients we will be basing our recommendations on are those working in academia, specifically post-docs and group leaders.

What types of grant are there?

The main types of grants that are relevant to science are research, resource/equipment and travel grants. First, we will look at research grants. Their purpose is to support specific research projects of teams. The way the grant will be used must be explicitly expressed and results achieved thanks to the grant should be clear.

Resource/equipment grants are funding for specific devices and instruments that are required for the research. Software can also be covered here when it is too expensive to buy through a research grant. Other software (such as labfolder) that help the daily functions and management of the labs where the research is being done can also be covered. The grant may cover the entire cost or just the direct costs, with the recipient financing maintenance and other running costs.

Travel grants can be used for trips that might be necessary as part of a project. For example, if you need to go to another lab or institute to collaborate on research or use specialized equipment only available there. These grants can also cover travel to conferences and congresses relevant to the research.

Infographic: Scientific grant structure

Title page

The first section of your application should be the title page. This could also be the cover letter, which will introduce your proposal to the reviewer. It will be the first impression they get so it has to be a positive one. This should not be confused with an abstract, the next section, and should be written as a more personal introduction about the team/organization, the project, what you need from the funder and why.


This section should be a brief summary of what the reviewer can expect to read as they get further into the proposal. You will want to go over the key points in each of the sections to come, which will be important to the reviewer. Make sure that everything you mention in the abstract is actually elaborated upon later in the proposal. It is advisable to write this last, once all the sections of your proposal are finished.

Project Description

The project description is exactly what it sounds like. It should go into detail on what the goals and objectives of the project are and the motivation to do it. To support the motivation, you should include some background information and explain its significance. Include the methods and strategies, so the reviewer knows exactly how the funding will be used. Finally, the way in which you will evaluate the success and results of your project’s work must be conveyed. This is so the funder will know when their contributions have been put to good use.

Budget and timeline

Prepare a short budget showing estimated expenses and income throughout the project. The calculations for this should be done thoroughly and not just guessed. Past expenditure can be used a reference here. You must also take into account the different categories of what you need funding for. This concerns the equipment, instruments, consumables, peoples’ time and any travel costs. A timeline should show what will happen when during the research process and when costs will be incurred. Another thing you should include is whether you are receiving funding from another source, since the reviewer will want to know how you plan to sustain your project.

Additional information

You want the reviewer to know who will be involved in the project and how their knowledge and skills are needed for the project. This section is also important to justify any costs incurred by paying people for their work. Information about the institute or organization, its mission and track record gives the project some more context.

The writing itself


The tone of your proposal should be one that conveys your interest in the project, with the aim of interesting the reviewer and convincing them that your project is worthy of funding. There should be energy in your writing to make it engaging to read, getting their attention in the sea of other proposals. While you need to convince them that your project is worth funding, you do not want to overwrite and ramble. This is likely to lose their attention and will make it more effort to read your proposal. Instead, aim to be concise and get to the points you want to get across.


The language does not so much refer to whether you use English or German, but to the type of language and words you choose to use. You do not want the reviewer to feel like it is a chore to read your proposal. Your tone and the contents of the project should interest them, and the language should complement this. Meaning, the language should flow, be easy to understand and not consist of too much jargon. You may want to demonstrate that you are an expert in your field that will know how to use the funding wisely, but bombarding them with specific and complicated terminology may irritate them and does not help the understanding of your project.


In terms of overall structure, you could follow that of the list of elements we recommend you include. In terms of the structure of the points included within the different sections, you want to make sure you are highlighting the key points. Have subtitles and state the point at the beginning of the paragraph, elaborating it below. Mentioning the key points in the abstract/summary will help the reviewer remember what is to come and helps highlight the key points when they read them later.


We all know that big blocks of text and pages of paragraphs can be cumbersome to read, so make sure you add other media where relevant. This is not to say you should just jam in photos and graphs whenever you can. You will want to place figures, tables and graphs where they will add value to your writing. If you are including preliminary data, visualizing it can help its understanding. Preliminary data also provides further motivation for your proposal to be chosen. It conveys that you have already invested time and resources into the project and have results to support your reasons for pursuing it.

Research Data Management

Research Data Management (RDM) is an overarching process that guides researchers through the many stages of the data lifecycle. In doing so, it enables scientists and stakeholders alike to make the most out of generated research data. In light of this, robust RDM plans are becoming frequently more significant in securing scientific funding.

To discover how to optimize RDM strategies, check out our guide on effective Research Data Management.

Additional tips

Finally, we will briefly go over some considerations that might be obvious, yet they are still worth mentioning. First off, before starting a project or writing its grant, you should be sure that you will be committed to it. If not, it makes it a chore to work on and will be hard to sound convincing in the proposal. You should make sure that the organization or program you apply to for funding is an appropriate one; it should be relevant to your institute and project. Once you know where to apply, follow their guidelines and instructions for applications carefully.

The project you propose should be innovative but also not too ‘out there’ or speculative, or else funders may be wary of it. You want to clearly identify and convey the benefits that will come out of the project. Keep in mind, however, that you must be realistic with what you can achieve, when and with how much funding. It might be tempting to list lots of things you plan to do throughout the project, but if it is unrealistic, reviewers are more likely to poorly rate it.

Last but not least, remember that it should be enjoyable. It is an opportunity to showcase your ideas and make an impact!

Thinking of switching paper for digital? Navigating through all the ELN options can be tricky, so check out our Comprehensive Buyers’ guide to the Electronic Lab Notebook to discern which would be best for your needs.

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