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Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Research Services
May 24, 2015
Canadian Excellence

Tips on Obtaining Grants

The responsibility of accounting for the expenditure of public funds is placing increasing pressure on funding agencies to ensure that projects will not only result in original contributions to knowledge, but will also be relevant to the discipline, or have outcomes of an applied nature. In order to be successful, a proposal for funding should demonstrate that the project: i) is unique and original; ii) has a sound and clearly described methodology; iii) is feasible; and iv) meets the ethical standards expected in human or animal research. The proposal must convince the reader, frequently outside the researcher's home discipline, that the project is relevant and has scholarly merit. Equally important, the reviewer must be convinced that the researcher is not only capable of conducting the research, but also has the expertise to conduct this type of research project.

Often the researcher is too close to the project to see that the proposal does not creatively and clearly outline the scope, rationale, objectives, or the methodology. For this reason every proposal should be critically reviewed by a colleague before submission to the external agency. A colleague at another university, who is working in the same or a closely related field and who has been successful in obtaining external research funding, may be particularly helpful. A colleague in your own department with demonstrated success in obtaining grants or contracts also may be willing to critically review the proposal.

Members of grant selection committees and external reviewers are your peers. Being visible in your field through publications, conference presentations, and scholarly communication with colleagues in the field may help you to achieve greater success.

Even if you are unsuccessful, there is often valuable experience gained by applying for external funding. Your own ideas may crystallize as you prepare the proposal for a second or third review. Critical comments from colleagues and from the assessors should aid in improving the proposal as you submit another application for funding to the same or a different agency.


The proposal must meet the purposes and resources of the funding agency.

Value of Project:
The project will be evaluated according to:
1. its relevance to current research in the field
2. whether the project advances knowledge
3. whether the results are likely to be presented and published in scholarly journals
4. for some agencies, whether the project has practical application, and whether this information will be shared with practitioners or policy-makers.

The project must be feasible. This will be determined by the scope of the project versus:
1. amount of time required
2. amount of money requested
3. qualifications of the investigator
4. scope of the project

Evidence that the principal researcher has the experience to conduct the research is provided by:
1. formal academic qualifications
2. publication and presentation record - is there a continuous record? If not, explain gaps in your career or record (parental leave, illness, secondment, administrative responsibilities).
3. previous grants and awards
4. research (in this area and in others), completed and ongoing; publications in the area of the proposed research
5. demonstrated knowledge of the relevant literature
6. approval of the Research Ethics or Animal Care Committee to conduct the proposed research project - often this is not required until funding has been awarded
7. in the case of team projects, a clear indication of each participant's role and academic qualifications

Project Design:
Poorly conceived and defined projects are probably the most common cause of a negative decision. Clear, concise and well-developed plans for completing the research are essential. This section of the proposal should include:
1. Statement of the Problem
- theoretical or practical rationale for the project
- the purpose of the project and how and why it will add to the body of knowledge in the discipline or profession
2. Review of the Literature
- a concise and complete review of the current state of knowledge (adhere to any required page limits for this section)
3. Research Design
- research objectives
- research questions
- hypotheses to be tested (if any)
- operational definitions of all concepts
- procedures for collecting data/information (e.g. survey instrument or experimental design; copies of instruments such as questionnaires and of correspondence with other interested parties or subjects who have agreed to co-operate should be enclosed)
- data collection plan (e.g. interviewing techniques, library research, mail survey techniques, field procedures, laboratory procedures)
- data analysis and interpretation plan (i.e. descriptive, causal, statistical, etc.)
- time frame for work to be completed

1. follow agency guidelines, especially with respect to eligible expenses, and in the justification of budget items. All items must be fully justified (e.g. why are 3 RA's not 1 needed; why is a trip to a research site needed).
2. provide a breakdown of cost per unit, number of units required and total cost. This applies to research assistants (ie. hours per week and # of weeks) as well as to mileage, subsistence, technical services, etc.
3. budget summaries and details should be consistent and accurate (check your addition!). 

When applying to Canadian agencies, include the names of senior Canadian and international scholars as possible referees (if requested). Referees should be informed about the project (send a copy of the proposal) and be alerted that they may be contacted.

1. Use appropriate and up-to-date application forms and when an application form is not provided, use the SSHRC or NSERC format as a model. Many of the granting agencies provide application forms on the Internet. Some are available as forms that can be downloaded and edited, others are edited on-line.
2. The application must be complete, and must be submitted without any typographical, spelling or grammatical errors.

Print Size Standards:
Granting agencies are increasingly insisting that the application be submitted with a specified font for ease of photocopying and reading by reviewers. 

Commonly, agencies require 12-point Times New Roman type, single-spaced (with no more than 6 lines per inch), and margins of at least 3/4".  (These are different than many Word Processor defaults, so make sure to set up each document before you start).

For further information on General Presentation, consult the agency's Researcher's Guide and application forms.

All three federal agencies, SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR, now require electronic submission for most of their grants.  In some cases, you will be fitting your text into boxes on the online forms.  In others, you will be formatting your document and attaching it as a pdf file.  In either case, keep careful track of the formatting and length requirements. 

1. Write a draft and then read and rewrite several days or weeks later.

2. Ask a colleague, preferably someone in your field who has successfully obtained research funds, to critique the proposal.

3. If you are a new applicant to NSERC or SSHRC you can benefit greatly from reading the successful applications of colleagues. Names of recipients of external grants are published in Research at WLU.

The Editorial/Communication Officers the Research Office are available to review and provide feedback on external grant applications, given sufficient notice.


The information provided below is from the NSERC Program Guide for Professors (formerly the Researcher's Guide).  Although NSERC is referred to throughout the piece, many of the granting agencies are now emphasizing the importance of training highly qualified personnel. Researchers from all disciplines, whether applying to SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR, or other agencies, should take the points below into consideration when developing grant proposals.

The Assessment of Contributions to the Training of Highly Qualified Personnel

Advanced training in science and engineering is an integral part of university research and of NSERC's mission to foster the discovery and application of knowledge. This training contributes to the availability of a highly skilled labour force, capable of thinking critically and creating and applying knowledge for the benefit of Canada. Individuals trained in science and engineering are ideally positioned to capitalize upon new ideas and technologies developed in Canada and elsewhere in the world, regardless of the sector in which they are employed. Professionals in science and engineering contribute to our national competitiveness and productivity, as well as to our understanding of the natural and physical environment and ourselves, leading to improvements in the standard of living and quality of life for Canadians.

Training supported by NSERC ranges from undergraduate theses and summer projects to the postdoctoral level and includes technical and other research personnel. The level and content of the training should be appropriate to the research field, with opportunities for interaction and collaboration with other researchers inside and outside the university, where appropriate. Undergraduate student participation in final-year projects and summer projects is an important first phase in research training and plays a major role in encouraging excellent students to pursue research careers. For technicians and others who have been in long-term positions, the acquisition of new techniques and knowledge is an important contribution to training. In collaborative research involving non-university partners, student training may be enhanced by an exposure to an industrial work environment. Similarly, industry personnel can benefit from being involved in academic research.

NSERC also recognizes that not all research is appropriate for training and there will be circumstances when training will be limited. In these cases, the onus is on the applicant to provide an explanation of the absence of a training component.

The fact that an applicant has trained, is training or plans to train students, technicians, or postdoctoral fellows is not, in itself, a sufficient rationale for awarding a grant. A researcher's contribution to training will be assessed in terms of its quality and impact, and not solely in terms of the number of people supervised. Also, the applicant and the research proposal must meet the standards of excellence of the program.

It is expected that most trainees supported from a grant will produce theses and other high-quality contributions to knowledge, and will move on to professional careers in fields related to science and engineering in all sectors.

The following questions will be used as a guide by selection committees and panels when assessing your involvement in research training:

From information provided on the Personal Data Form
• Have the resulting contributions been of high quality?
• Have the students and other personnel gone on to further research training positions (e.g., Ph.D. program, postdoctoral position)?
• Have the people trained by the applicant gone on to become respected professionals in fields related to science and engineering, in all sectors? Examples of professional contributions:
• transferring new knowledge and expertise from the universities to the Canadian private sector;
• starting businesses, creating jobs and new economic opportunities;
• maintaining Canada's international competitiveness in research in science and engineering, renewing our intellectual resources;
• developing and implementing policies, standards and regulations on issues of national interest; or
• maintaining and enhancing the national framework for competitive R&D through teaching, administration and research dissemination.

• In the context of the research field and the applicant's capabilities, is the past level of training activity appropriate? If not, has appropriate justification been provided?

From information provided in the application
• Are the projects feasible and appropriate for the training proposed?
• Will trainees be able to make an original contribution to knowledge?
• What opportunity will there be for training in a collaborative or interdisciplinary environment, if appropriate?
• What opportunity will there be for trainees to work with other sectors, if appropriate?
• If little or no training is planned, has an appropriate justification been given?