Grant Writing 101

Grant Writing 101

Demystifying Grants – A Primer

Segment One: What to know before you Apply

Grant writing within research may feel mystical when looking at the overwhelming aspects of a site like on first blush, but the potentials of understanding the process can help create clarity and empower researchers to begin thinking of the avenues available for securing funding for research and truly enriching the process of grant writing for the university.

Dr. Louise Underdahl and Dr. Rodney Luster created a multipart instructional primer laying out the basics for grant writing.  Segment One focused on four essential prerequisites:

  1. How to prepare for a successful submission
  2. Which funding sources best align with your work
  3. Know your donors
  4. Set a strategy

You can listen to the recording of the first of what will be several sessions on empowering grant writing potentials here-This is the inrodution to grant writing, a one-hour session on the basics

A Brief  Overview:  The Magic About Applying for Grants is Preparation

Dr. Underdahl began the session by recounting her failed attempts to secure funding and her ah-ha moments from conversations with Dr. Luster who recently completed an extensive (60 hour) course in grantsmanship.  Here are the preliminary take-aways from the session. Preparation is important. We cannot undersore this enough because often as researchers, we may feel that because of our credentials, extensive training and years in academe, that approaching the process of something like grant writing is within our landscape of acumen. However, being subsumed in this kind of thinking may undermine the potentials. Just as most spent the deliberate actions of preparing for dissertation, we can learn from our early academic days regarding such preparation.

Next, we must begin by finding a prospective donor interested in a collaboration with you and your ideas because your accomplishments will enable them to be successful. You will need to write a cover letter that communicates ‘what’s in it for them’ – in under 8 seconds (because this is the average adult’s attention span).

Dr. Luster recommends flipping your focus to find the correct donor, by understanding (their needs) first, and seeking to be understood second.  Your grant applicant should align with your donors’ needs, showcase your strengths, and emphasize how you are the right person to solve the problem they have.  Getting funding is not about having the best idea, it is about making connections and filling a need.  

Five Simple Truths of Grant Writing

The potentials of grantsmanship and what it can mean to a researcher’s own possibilities for moving research forward are immense. Here is what Dr. Luster and Dr. Underdahl recommend regarding five essential truths to grant writing.

  1. If you don’t qualify – Don’t apply
  2. Follow the instructions
  3. A successful application takes work – it begins by researching your donor
  4. Don’t take shortcuts. It is essential to have a good proposal.
  5. Funders have their agendas. They don’t care what you need or want, you must help them meet their objectives.

Successful applications must follow the process. Your submission must be well written, paying attention to both style and idea construction.  There are many nuisances to grant writing. One key for distinguishing yourself is to reach out and introduce yourself to the grant officer and establish a relationship.  Approach the grant officer correctly. You might ask their advice on the positioning of your abstract. Another way to stand out is to apply as part of a team, donors are more interested in working with a great team than with a Rockstar.

Funding in Brief

The two basic types of grants you should understand.

  • Project grants: focus on the impacts/benefits to the beneficiaries
  • Research grants: deal with innovative and transformative approaches for creating paradigm shifts in the field

Funding can come federal, foundations, corporations, or individual grants. In 2016, over $1 Trillion awarded in grants, of which $360 Billion is through private funding, from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) lists opportunities with 26 federal funding agencies. The University already has a DUNS number, which you can use in the application process.  

Additional material is available on the Research Hub under workshops and this particular one with downloadable files to get you started.

An overload of information available on  Take advantage of it, to narrow your focus on the type of grant and donor that are right for you, and first make certain you are eligible.


Rodney Luster's picture Rodney Luster | July 27, 2020 11:04 am MST

Thanks so much Sue for writing this up! Enjoyed the process and hope that we really start down this process as a faculty group. 

Louise Underdahl's picture Louise Underdahl | July 28, 2020 7:32 pm MST

Hi Sue,

Your ability to simplify complexity is a manifestation of genius, as in these pearls of wisdom:

  • You will need to write a cover letter that communicates ‘what’s in it for them’ – in under 8 seconds (because this is the average adult’s attention span).
  • The University already has a DUNS number, which you can use in the application process.  
  • Getting funding is not about having the best idea, it is about making connections and filling a need.  

Creating clarity does empower research! 

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