As part of our series introducing OSP’s grantsmanship library, we will post reviews of each of the newly acquired texts. Today we’ll review Aldridge and Derrington’s The Research Funding Toolkit, published in 2012 by Sage.
Most of the examples in this book are for British or European funding agencies, but they map pretty closely to NIH and NSF peer review processes. More importantly, the general principals put forward in the book are quite universal and can be applied to grant proposals in any discipline. In fact, this book’s strength is that offers a birds-eye view of the grant-writing process, transcending the agency-specific minutiae that often bogs down grant applicants. According to the authors, every grant proposal must put forward four central propositions:
- The importance proposition: this proposal asks an important question
- The success proposition: this project is likely to answer the question
- The value proposition: the likely gain from this project is worth the resources requested
- The competence proposition: the applicant and team are competent to carry out the project as described
These four propositions are reiterated throughout the book and form the basis of the authors’ guide to preparing a generic case for support. This generic case can then be rearranged for insertion into a funding agency’s application form or template. The authors also dedicate chapters to the process of seeking feedback and revising, which are left out of many grant-writing texts and don’t often figure into the grantseeking timelines of harried applicants.
Chapters 9 and 10 explore the grant proposal as a genre. Proposals, unlike most academic writing, are not meant to be read in detail. As the authors, point out, they must be “speed-readable”, presenting the support for the four propositions above in the clearest and most convincing way possible. While most academic writing follows an “argue-conclude” structure, a successful proposal follows an “assert-justify” formula. Only primary and secondary reviewers will read the proposal in detail. They will be tasked with pulling key details from the proposal to present to the review panel. The remaining panelists will read only summaries and headings of the proposal. This means that building a complex argument in the grant proposal is a waste of time. A proposal is an elevator pitch, not the State-of-the-Union address.
That is not to say that a proposal is simplistic. The authors offer some very nuanced advice about how to present the case for support, priming the reader to accept the applicant’s arguments and building enthusiasm for the project. This book, particularly the chapters on proposal argumentation and style, are worth reading multiple times.
If you’d like to borrow OSP’s copy, please email Dacia Myree. The book is available for about $40 on Amazon.