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Writing your proposal – University of Reading

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Writing your proposal

A well-written proposal is essential for securing research funding.  Applications are usually assessed by referees and committee members who are pressed for time, with numerous proposals to consider at any one time while still pursuing their own careers.  Successful proposals are those that are well-presented, precise and memorable.  Tips for writing successful proposals are given below, along with a recommended procedure you may wish to follow when applying for research funding.


Plan your application

Consider what type of grant you would like to apply for, and identify a potential funding source (see Finding Funding).  Ensure that your research fits the remit and strategy of the sponsor you wish to apply to; check with the sponsor or your Research Development Manager (RDM) if you are not sure.  Read the sponsor's guidelines thoroughly and check the eligibility criteria.  Plan the starting date and duration of the project, taking into consideration your workload and periods of leave for example.  Allow for a delay between the submission of your application and the outcome.  As a rough guideline, unless otherwise stated in the sponsor's guidelines, the starting date of the project should be at least 6 months (if existing staff are to be involved) or 9 months (if new staff are to be recruited) after the submission of your application.


Contact the sponsor

It is important to develop personal contact with the sponsor, particularly on specific calls.  They can advise you on whether your proposal fits the objectives of the call, and the criteria against which your proposal will be assessed.  This will help you have a clearer understanding of the areas you should address when writing your proposal.


Contact your Research Development Manager

Once you have decided to apply for funding, alert the relevant RDM for your research theme as soon as possible.  They will assist you with the administrative and financial aspects of your application, and can provide information and advice on its structure and content.



All UKRI applications and many other funders will ask you to consider ethics in an application, we recommend that all researchers looking to apply consult the University's Research Ethics webpage.  For projects in developing countries we have produced some additional information which can be found in the  GCRF Important Documents area.


Writing your proposal

Successful applications are typically those that have been developed over time, allowing for review and editing.  Your RDM can provide advice about the presentation and content of your proposal, and there is a library of successful proposals available for reference at Research & Enterprise (see Successful Proposal Library).

In general, a proposal should be written in simple and clear language, and should be well-structured to facilitate easy reading.  It should catch the reader's attention immediately, and consequently the summary or abstract is vitally important.  The aims and objectives should be clearly stated and realistic, and the proposed methodology should be connected to the objectives with a reasonable time-scale.

Note: It is very important to read the sponsor's guidelines for the written proposal carefully, as format requirements differ from sponsor to sponsor.  In particular, check the current requirements for the Case for Support (e.g. font, font size and number of pages) as these are regularly revised.  Applications that do not strictly comply with format requirements will be returned to the Applicant by the Research Councils.


Costing your application

There are a whole range of factors to consider when costing an application, depending on the type of scheme you are applying to and the sponsor (see Costing a Proposal).  Your RDM will guide you through the financial aspects of your application, and provide the staff costs for you.


Review of your application

Academic colleagues can offer valuable advice on your application.  Many members of staff have served as reviewers, and some have served on sponsor's subject panels and committees, and can thus provide insight into the application process.  It is therefore strongly recommended that your application is reviewed by one or more colleagues before it is submitted.  Your RDM will also be able to review your application at any stage, and provide comments and suggestions to you.


Submitting your proposal

Your completed application should be submitted to the relevant RDM at least 5 working-days before the closing date (excluding BBSRC and NERC applications).  For BBSRC and NERC applications the internal deadline is as per the EOI process deadlines.  This allows time for the application to be checked and edited if necessary.


AHRC and Leverhulme Trust Grant Development College

The Grant Development College is an internal review process to support the development of AHRC Standard Grant and Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant applications, with the aim of improving their chances of success.  All grants led by Reading to be submitted to these schemes must go through the Grant Development College before submission.

Applicants should first submit a Stage 1 application, which is read by a reviewer outside the PI's discipline and someone within their department.  Research Division Leads, alongside the Research Development Manager and the Heritage & Creativity Research Dean will compile feedback for the applicant within 4-6 weeks of submission.  Leverhulme RPG outline applications can then be submitted to the funder.  For AHRC standard grants, the Case for Support is reviewed in Stage 2 of this process, taking impact into account.

If you wish to submit a Stage 1 application, please discuss with your Research Development Manager, then use the relevant template below and submit in time for an upcoming deadline:

8 March 2021; 10 May 2021; 5 July 2021; 20 September 2021; 8 November 2021.


AHRC Stage 1 proforma

Leverhulme Stage 1 proforma


ESRC Grant Development College

The Grant Development College is a grant review process to support the development of ESRC Responsive Mode Grant applications and improve their chances of success.  All ESRC Research Grants (open call), New Investigator Grants and Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) Grants led by Reading must go through the Grant Development College before submission.  The process, which is in addition to the normal support provided by RES, has two stages.  Applicants submit an Expression of Interest (EoI), which is read by a reviewer outside the PI's discipline.  PIs should also arrange for someone within their department to read the application.  Following the EoI stage, the Case for Support is reviewed.  EoI proformas can be submitted at any time.

Stage 1 Expression of Interest Application Proforma

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