Writing Research Proposals

Write for yourself before writing for a research funder
The most important element to proposal writing is understanding where each proposal fits into your own research strategy. You want to make sure you’ve mapped out your own research idea(s) without bearing in mind the needs and wants of any particular funder. This research strategy will grow and adapt over time, but it will be unique to you and your research ideas. Once you know it, it will make writing proposals much clearer and more strategic, as well as helping you to identify funding. If you need help getting started on drafting a research strategy, Edinburgh Research Office has resources to help you.
Resources for Research Strategy and Planning

Understand what’s available
Getting an idea of what a fellowship entails, and how that differs from a research grant; or a network, can be vital to understanding what funding you require to support your research. Writing for each type of application can differ and this will have an impact on the amount of preparation you will need to make, what external partners you might need to access or collaborators that might be involved in writing the application and delivering the research.
Resources for Proposal Writing

Understand the landscape
Proposal writing is a competition.  Roughly 75% of the applications you write won’t be successful. That means that a lot of your research ideas won’t be funded the first time around, and they may require re-submission, re-purposing, or re-positioning to find the right external funding to support them. Having a clear research strategy will make that process much easier, as you can plan option A, B and C for each idea in advance – making your research application ‘pipeline’ clear and manageable from the outset. This way you can tailor each aspect of your research strategy to fit the funders you hope will support it, but if that plan doesn’t go smoothly you are able to quickly adapt to another funder. Usually the right funder for you is the one that funds you.
Resources for Understanding and Influencing Funding

Use your network
Read successful applications. This can not only help you learn what goes into a proposal, but it can also help you become familiar with the funders themselves, what sort of language to use and what is possible within each of the grant schemes. Colleagues within the University have access to an online selection of curated applications. It can also be worthwhile to ask peers to share their successful applications with you. All of this background reading can also help you develop your idea. Make sure these are recent and successful as application forms and criteria will change over time so it’s important to avoid any unwanted surprises by getting familiar with the latest funder requirements.
View Successful Research Funding Applications

Know your audience
Understand the funder you are writing for, as well as the type of funding you are requesting. We can give you advice on writing for a fellowship and how that differs from writing a research grant – but also make sure you understand how your grant fits into that funders concept for each grant they fund, by getting to know the funders themselves. This can be essential in helping you to craft your application. We also provide information and support to help you become familiar with the UK funding landscape, as well as being able to assist the technicalities and specifics of European funding.
UK and EU Funding Insights

Plan your applications well in advance – and understand the funder process
This can also extend to understanding any internal selection processes that might be in place at the University. Some funders will set a limit the number of applications an institution can submit and so there may be internal selection processes in place for these demand managed calls.
View details and requirements of Demand Managed Calls

Where to start?
Once you have developed a research strategy, you will want to consider what research schemes you will want to apply to get your research funded. There are a number of ways to find funding calls to suit the needs of your research strategy, and our funding opportunities hub can be a good place to start. This contains a curated selection of calls and is updated regularly. If you want something more long-term and tailored to you, then you can set yourself up bespoke funding searches and alerts using *Research Professional.
View Funding Opportunities Hub

Keep in touch
As well as producing and maintaining the resources mentioned here, we run year-round events focused on crucial elements of winning research funding. In addition this we also maintain a blog highlighting relevant events, tips and the latest information of research funding.

ERO Events | What’s on

Edinburgh Research Office blog


Al Innes is Research Development Officer at Edinburgh Research Office, here at the University of Edinburgh.


November is Academic Writing Month. This annual event was established as a way to support academic writing via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter. During November 2021, the Institute for Academic Development run WriteFest, a local contribution to this academic writing month, with the aim of bringing people together to raise awareness and celebrate academic writing.  If this blog has inspired you to start writing, book onto one of our online half day writing retreats or researcher writing hours: https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/research-roles/writefest 

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