Preparing a Proposal

Starting the process

Having selected the funder and scheme best suited to your research project, you should now start preparing your proposal. 

Useful things to consider:

Allow yourself time to "scope" the application process

Carefully study the funder's guidelines to check the project fits with their remit. Once you are sure the funder is appropriate, check the criteria they use to evaluate proposals. Use this as a guide to develop a draft proposal. It's good practice to discuss your proposal with senior colleagues in your department. Your budget should comply with their eligible cost policy. Check the funder's deadline. Review the relevant forms that will need to be completed. In a number of cases the application process will involve completing an electronic application form. Prior to submission, departmental and College approvals will be required. If you are unfamiliar with this aspect of the process, check with your Research Services Officer. Although straightforward, approvals do take time, which you should take into account in planning your submission.  Please give yourself plenty of time.

Study your funding source

All funding agencies have their own criteria for allocating their resources. It is worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with these and ensure that your application clearly addresses your targeted source of support. Research Council and government departments will reflect government policy. Similarly EU funding will seek to address the wider aims of the Commission and you may need to address these issues in your proposal. Charities, such as the Wellcome Trust, also have clearly defined missions so be sure your research project falls within their funding sphere. If in doubt, contact the funder and check with your Research Services Officer.

Read the rules and the guidance notes. Guidance notes will most likely be attached to the application form, they are designed to help you through the detail of the application process. Guidance notes may seem tedious but will help you to avoid basic mistakes which at best will require clarification by the funder, slowing the process, and at worst may result in your application being rejected pre-review. Make sure you are using the current version of the application form and guidelines. In particular ensure you have reviewed the funder's evaluation process and the criteria peer reviewers use to judge a proposal. If in doubt check with your Research Services Officer.

Discuss your application

Most funders use peer reviewers to judge proposals. However good your proposed research project, your application has to communicate this effectively to external reviewers. Where possible ask senior colleagues or colleagues with a successful grant application track record to review your proposal. This is strongly advised if you are a relatively new researcher or this is your first grant application. Research Services are also able to advise on non-academic aspects of your proposal such as eligibility, costing, presentation and so on. Also remember to contact your nominated referees. 

Justify your costings

Refer to the funder's costing guidelines and be realistic. Ensuring your proposal is appropriately resourced is important. Peer reviewers will mark down projects they consider to be either over or under resourced.  Applicants should think carefully about the time and resources needed to complete the research successfully within the specified period.

A well thought out financial plan helps to create general confidence in the proposal. Provide as detailed a breakdown of costs as possible so that referees and panels can properly assess the Case for Support. Make sure that what you are asking for is allowed within the funder's regulations. All funders look for value for money.

Costing/information checklist 

Please note that the UK Government now requires all applications to provide the Full Economic Cost (fEC) of proposed research projects, whether the funder pays fEC or not. You can obtain more detailed information in the fEC guidelines document.

Research Services have also compiled a checklist to serve as an aide-mémoire when completing a research proposal.  Please take time to look through the list as it may highlight research costs you have overlooked.

Content and presentation 

The research proposal is the means by which you will be trying to convince a panel that your application is worth funding. Consider the following questions:

  • Have I clearly formulated the problem, have I put it in context of contemporary work within the field and theoretical debates, demonstrated the way in which my work will build on existing research and make a contribution to the field? Is there a clear and convincingly argued analytical framework?
  • What will the research do, to whom or to what, and why?
  • Have I established appropriate aims and objectives? Are they clear and concise, do they reflect intellectual aims and practical, attainable objectives?
  • Have I provided a well-thought out research design in which there is a reasoned explanation of the scale, timing and resources necessary? Am I being realistic about these? Am I using the most relevant approach and the most appropriate methods? How will it relate to and deliver the objectives?
  • What will my research design allow me to say in the interpretation of anticipated results?
  • Have I given a full and detailed description of the proposed research methods? Is there any innovation in the methodology I am planning to use?
  • If I am collecting data have I considered existing data resources? Am I sure that access will be given where necessary, and do I have written confirmation of this? Am I convinced of its quality, validity, reliability and relevance? Have I considered the costs of cataloguing and preparing data for archiving?
  • Have I demonstrated a clear and systematic approach to the analysis of data and how this fits into the research design?
  • Have I thought about the ethics of what I am planning to do? Are there any sensitive issues or potential problems which need to be addressed? Have I fully consulted on these issues and obtained the approval of an ethics committee where required?
  • Have I recognised and planned for the skills and competencies that will be required to bring the work to a satisfactory conclusion?
  • Have I anticipated potential difficulties? Have I shown that I recognise these and discussed how they would be handled?
  • Have I provided a bibliography? This will be used in the selection of referees and will indicate your familiarity with the theoretical grounding and current state of the art of your subject. Where there is genuinely little or no relevant literature, explain this fully. Panel members and referees will not assume your erudition, they want evidence.
  • This proposal will be subject to the critical appraisal of my peers. Am I satisfied that I have fully defended my chosen research design and made it clear why others are not appropriate?
  • Have I identified potential users of this research outside of the academic community, have I involved/consulted them in my planning? Have I arranged for their continuing involvement in the research process in an appropriate way?
  • Have I provided a clear dissemination strategy for the research, demonstrating how the research outcomes will be communicated to all interested parties including potential users of the research outside of the academic community?
  • Convey your genuine interest, understanding and enthusiasm for the work. Keep the following questions in mind as you plan:
    • Why does it matter?
    • Why now?
    • Why you?!

Write in plain English. Your proposal is likely to be seen by a great many people, some of whom will not be versed in your particular specialisation. The ideas you wish to convey and your reasons for doing so should be apparent to a wide audience. By the same token, do take the trouble to check spelling, grammar and punctuation. These are all part of the quality of presentation and presentation matters! 

Dissemination

Most funders place strong emphasis on ensuring that researchers engage as fully as possible with the users of research outcomes. These may be other academics, government departments, public bodies, businesses, voluntary organisations or other interested parties. Try to consult with and involve people who could make a valuable contribution to the research and who could provide support and interest. Try to do this in the planning stages of the project and build dissemination activities into the structure of your research plan rather than give them passing reference as an after thought. This aspect is now becoming increasingly important particularly with UK Research Councils - the government is keen to see that the UK is benefiting from the significant investment they make for research funding.

Finally, is all the required information provided?

It is important to ensure that your application meets the funders requirements. Applications may require:

  • Signatures and an institutional stamp
  • A covering letter for resubmissions
  • The correct number of copies
  • A realistic start date
  • Details of previous/current applications

It is imperative that you double check your own work. Although Research Services check applications prior to submission, it is your application.

Submitting a proposal

Actually submitting an application can sometimes seem daunting especially if you are not familiar with the process. Your Research Services Officer can provide valuable support to guide you through this process so please contact them as soon as possible if you need advice.

Some applications will still be paper based forms, but more and more funders have now moved to electronic submission systems and these can pose different hurdles. Again your Research Services Officer can provide support for this aspect. Information on some major funders who use electronic application systems is provided below. With many of these online systems, your Research Services Officer will be required to review your application again after you have submitted, and then submit it on behalf of the College. Research Services may not be able to approve and submit an application that they have not previously seen. The funders will not consider proposals until institutional approval has been provided.

Research Councils (Je-S)

The AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC and STFC, as well as the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) all now use the Research Council's Joint electronic-Submission system, Je-S, for accepting proposals.

The College is a registered user of Je-S, but Research Services are not able to register individual users due to data protection reasons. If you are not registered with Je-S you should go to the webpage via the above link and click on 'Create an Account'  to register for access to the system. All named researchers on a grant proposal must have an active Je-S account. Please do not leave registration to the last minute as the account approval process can take up to two days. Once your account is approved you will receive your User ID and Password directly from the Je-S helpdesk. If you forget your log in details please contact the Je-S Helpdesk directly via the Je-S website. RHUL Research Services do not have access to your User ID and Password.

Once registered, applicants can prepare proposals online. In addition to the comprehensive application form several attachments are also required, including a Case for Support, Justification of Resources, Pathways to Impact Statement, Data Management Plan, Previous Track Record, CVs and Letters of Support. All these attachments need to meet specific and strict formatting rules regarding page limits, font and margin size. It is important to check that you have met the requirements of the funder before submitting your application. Failure to meet such requirements can lead to the return of submitted applications and even rejection pre-review. Je-S provides very useful funder and scheme specific tips for completing all the necessary forms and attachments that can be accessed via the question mark icon in each section of the online form. The Je-S form requires accurate salary information for the PI and any other researchers involved. This is only available from your Research Services Officer so please contact them early in the application process.

Proposal submission via Je-S is a two-stage process, both of which must be completed by the published deadline. Once the applicant submits their proposal, Research Services receives an automated email alerting them to the submission. At this point your Research Services Officer checks the application form one more time before submitting it to the appropriate Council on behalf of the College. The applicant should receive an automated email when this has been done - if it is close to the deadline and you haven't yet received confirmation of full submission please contact Research Services.

You will find some useful tips on writing an impact summary, the data management plan and general guidelines for other attachments in the Research Resources area of our webpages.

Royal Society (e-GAP2) 

The Royal Society's online grant application and processing system is called e-GAP2 (electronic Grant Administration Processing system). However, some schemes still require a signed paper copy of the application to be posted to them in addition to the online application.

The eGAP2 system is a two-stage submission process: once the applicant submits their proposal, Research Services receives an automated email alerting them to the submission. At this point your Research Services Officer checks the application form one more time before submitting it to the Society on behalf of the College. The applicant should receive an automated email when this has been done - if it is close to the deadline and you haven't yet received confirmation of full submission please contact Research Services.

Be aware that the British Academy also uses e-GAP2. Make sure you are linked to the correct webpage! 

Leverhulme Trust

The Leverhulme Trust has its own online grant application system. They also operate a two-stage submission process: once the applicant submits their proposal, Research Services receives an automated email alerting them to the submission. At this point your Research Services Officer checks the application form one more time before submitting it to the Trust on behalf of the College. The applicant should receive an automated email when this has been done - if it is close to the deadline and you haven't yet received confirmation of full submission please contact Research Services.

Some Leverhulme Trust schemes, such as the popular Research Project Grants scheme, request an outline application that can be submitted at any time. This will be assessed and returned within 3 months. Successful applicants will then be invited to write detailed applications that will be submitted for a specific published deadline. Only slight changes to salaries can be made, for example if a promotion has occurred, otherwise no changes to the budget are allowed. Therefore, it is very important to discuss your outline application with your Research Services Officer and get full internal approval at this first stage.

Wellcome Trust (eGrants) 

Proposals to the Wellcome Trust need to be submitted on-line via their eGrants system.

The eGrants system has two-stage submission process: once the applicant submits their proposal, Research Services receives an automated email alerting them to the submission. At this point your Research Services Officer checks the application form one more time before submitting it to the Society on behalf of the College. The applicant should receive an automated email when this has been done - if it is close to the deadline and you haven't yet received confirmation of full submission please contact Research Services.

British Academy (e-GAP2) 

The British Academy has implementated e-GAP2 (electronic Grant Administration Processing system) for processing its applications. 

The eGAP2 system is a two-stage submission process: once the applicant submits their proposal, Research Services receives an automated email alerting them to the submission. At this point your Research Services Officer checks the application form one more time before submitting it to the Society on behalf of the College. The applicant should receive an automated email when this has been done - if it is close to the deadline and you haven't yet received confirmation of full submission please contact Research Services.

Be aware that the Royal Society also uses e-GAP2. Make sure you are linked to the correct webpage!  

 EU

Proposals to the EU need to be submitted on-line using the EU Participant Portal .  The EU Horizon 2020 Research programme runs from 2014 to 2020.  All the documents (Work Programmes, Calls, Closing Dates, Updates) are put out via the Portal and once you have registered online you can access them.  There are various parts to EU applications. In general Part A includes information about the applicant(s), the host institution and the finances. Part B is about the research. 

The Validated PIC number for Royal Holloway, University of London is 999861451.   RHUL recently appointed Janice Cullen as EU Grants & Proposals Manager to provide specialist support to RHUL academic and administrative staff about EU proposals.  Her contact details are janice.cullen@rhul.ac.uk, Tel.  +44 (0)1784 414414.   Any proposals involving RHUL must be costed and approved within RHUL before they are submitted.

For existing research projects go first to your usual contact in Research & Enterprise, Finance or Human Resources as appropriate.

RHUL subscribes to the UK Research Office (UKRO) in Brussels which gives extensive help, background information and training.  RHUL staff can access UKRO information for free by registering on the web-site, using their RHUL email address. 

 

College authorisation procedure

Please note that all proposals whether submitted electronically or paper-based must go through the College's internal authorisation procedure. For further information please refer to the Internal Procedures/Policies webpages and if you have any queries about this process, please contact your Research Services Officer

It is imperative that all applications for external research funding irrespective of funding value, including conference grants and travel grants, adhere to the authorisation procedure. For the avoidance of doubt, these pricing guidelines and internal authorisation procedures apply to:

(i)  Direct Applications - applications in which the PI is a member of College staff and the College will be the contracting party with the funder; and

(ii)  Indirect Applications - applications in which the PI is from another HEI or organisation, which will be the contracting party with the funder, and with whom the College has a Collaboration Agreement.

Failure to comply with the authorisation procedures may expose you and the College to legal liabilities and could result in the College refusing to accept an offer of funding. Once institutional authorisation is granted, your Research Services Officer will inform you that the proposal can be submitted.

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05/12/2016