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October News

Welcome to the OSP news

The month of October, we focus on the perspective of a faculty member’s viewpoint of the process involved to research, plan, prepare, and finalize for a federal grant. Dr. Eoin King is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and CETA Honors Coordinator. In July, Eoin submitted a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) through the National Science Foundation (NSF). The title of his project was Quantifying Tranquility as a Tool for Environmental Noise Control.

OSP: What do you hope to highlight after the completion of this project should you be awarded by NSF?

EK: “Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of noise and annoyance, this project will instead consider the acoustic environment as a resource, and will focus on quantifying and assessing positive aspects of the urban soundscape”.

OSP: What was your most challenging part of this proposal?

EK: “Time management. Preparing any NSF grant is a significant challenge that involves coordination of partners, balancing a budget (for all), making sure all policies and procedures are followed and, on top of all this, you have to find the time to actually write. For this proposal I had four separate collaborators, including the CT Science Center and NYU Steinhart. I had to meet with each collaborator individually and figure out where each would fit into the proposal. On top of this I was teaching 5 classes during the semester”.

OSP: What suggestions can you offer your colleagues who are currently writing proposals that would help them?

EK: “Start now! I started to work on my grant in December 2016, for a July 2017 submission date. Also, ask your colleagues (or OSP) for examples of successful grants. Examples are out there - all you need to do is ask the right person”.

TIP: "Beyond the INstructions: Preparing a Federal Grant"

Federal grant announcements include instructions, and plenty of them.  It is through preparing federal grant applications that applicants find ways to improve them. These five practices can improve a federal grant application. The practices are based upon common struggles observed in the planning processes of applicants, especially first-time applicants, and the omission of important information in the application narrative—information the grant announcement fails to address. In other words, the practices go beyond the instructions for completing an application packet to include the organizational process for completing it.

1. In order to prepare a successful federal grant application, applicants must first develop a federal grant project. The PI may assume that because it is operating a project similar to one called for in the grant announcement, it can write about the current project in the application. The assumption is only partially true; the existing project can serve as the foundation for the grant project, but it is essential to develop a new project for the federal grant. Putting a new spin on an existing project can be challenging, so consider these tips:

  • Give the existing project (Project A) a different name (Project B) to differentiate them. Project B is the new or federal grant project. Begin using the name, Project B, early on during the planning and writing process when referring to the federal grant project so others involved in preparing the grant application are clear about it.

  • Forget the past (Project A) and focus on the future (Project B.) It is acceptable to describe all or some components of Project A as the basis or springboard for Project B. But the methodology should move away from what the PI has done (past tense) or is doing (present tense) to what the PI will do (future tense) in Project B.

  • Coordinate materials in the appendix to align them with the proposed project; Project B. Project A job descriptions, organizational charts, job responsibilities, and the like should be adapted and titled as Project B.

  • Distinguish the resources necessary to operate Project B from Project A. Perhaps Project A employs a part-time (.5FTE) person and will be increased to 1.0 FTE by including the position in Project B, the federal grant program. The FTE would be represented in the budget of Project B as a part-time (.5FTE) position. As Project B gets underway, the FTE will have to track and report their time specific to Project B since it is part of the federal grant.

2. Get the individuals serving on the planning and writing team on the same page as soon as possible. The sections of a grant narrative build upon one another, and they will not align unless everyone has the same understanding of the project.

3. Incorporate Selection Criteria into the application narrative. The grant announcement gives detailed instructions for writing the narrative section of the application. Later in the announcement, it also informs applicants about the criteria, labeled as Selection or Review Criteria, reviewers will use to score each section of the narrative. It is common to find points within the Selection Criteria that the instructions do not mention. In such cases, reviewers are to evaluate information the narrative has not instructed applicants to address. The omission of this information could result in an applicant losing valuable points in the scoring process. Consider this tip for including all information within the narrative: Prepare a written outline for the narrative based upon instructions in the grant announcement. Then read the Selection Criteria carefully and identify all new points the narrative instructions did not address. Return to the outline and insert the new points within the appropriate sections of the narrative.

4. Set the application apart from the competition. Since it is impossible to know all the organizations that may be applying for the grant, address competition in a general fashion. The grant announcement identifies who is eligible to apply — nonprofits, institutions of higher education, state agencies, etc. — and from this, applicants can determine the type of organizations representing their competition. The announcement will also specify whether the grant is restricted to a specific geographic area or is national in scope. In addition, it shares the purpose of the federal grant program that, in essence, becomes the goal of all the proposed projects. The applicants will differ, however, in how they choose to approach the goal.

Consider using the following tips to set the application apart from all others:

  • Since the federal agency tells applicants what to do, focus on how the organization will do it. Collect information about best practices and build evidence-based projects. Explain how the organization will apply or adapt practices to meet the needs of its own target population.
  • Be thorough in collecting information that enables the applicant to make local, state, regional, and national comparisons. Use the data to address the problem and need for the project by looking for ways the service area, target population, and applicant organization may differ from others.
  • Federal agencies like projects that can be replicated by others. Use the aforementioned information to identify how other organizations could replicate or build upon the proposed model or its components.

 5. Address grant significance. Government agencies just like other funding sources want to know how their funding is going to make a difference.

Information retrieved from: Grant Writing Proposals.

If you have a topic to suggest for the newsletter, please contact Christina Lapierre, Assistant Director at