Pre-writing to establish a strong base for your grant (Grant writing 2/7)

Google_Brainstorming_by_Skulltrail - Copy

The first step of the writing process is pre-writing. You may remember this taking the form of brainstorming or free-writing. My mantra for this series is that grant writing isn’t hard: it’s damn hard! But if you hold any kind of academic appointment you’re eventually going to have to figure out a good process for grant writing.


First and foremost, before beginning to write your grant ensure you have a printed copy of the grant’s criteria. Granting agencies often provide invaluable style guides, as I mentioned in my last post. Read, re-read and if possible memorize these criteria.

Next, the fun part. Arm yourself with a pencil and paper, or open up a document in Microsoft Word and write your answers these key questions:

  • How have I ensured that this research is a good idea? How have I ensured I’m asking the right research questions?
  • How have I ensured the scope of my study is feasible, ethical and attractive to reviewers?
  • How have I ensured this is the right opportunity? Do I meet ALL eligibility requirements?
  • Am I working with the right people? If not, do I need to enlist additional collaborators?

Write your responses in the form of a memo you can return back to as your grant emerges. Writing should play a role in idea generation at throughout your study.


Pre-writing for grants is your self-assessment about whether or not you are ready to apply for the funding opportunity. You might be thinking, of course I’m ready! But remember, major grants are often extremely competitive. As my colleague Roger Graves reminds us, top-tier baseball players earning millions of dollars per year need to hit one of every four pitches; while top tier grants often have a success rate of less than one in five. To continue the analogy, pre-writing is batting practice.

Over 80% of applicants spend dozens of hours preparing to apply for these opportunities only to be rejected by reviewers. Can you look yourself in the mirror and be sure you’re going to be in the highest percentile?

Leave your thoughts

Q1 Where do you begin when you are preparing to write a grant?

Q2 What pre-writing or brainstorming strategies work / don’t work for you?

Other Resources

Roger Graves homepage, Roger is a fantastic writing scholar and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Alberta.

Argumentative Moves in SSHRC Grant Writing, a useful presentation by Roger and Heather Graves looking at grant writing rhetoric


Using process writing to strengthen your grant applications (Grant writing 1/7)

Photo Credit: Iris Waanders

Photo Credit: Iris Waanders

You’re eventually going to have to figure out a process for grant writing if you hold any kind of academic appointment. Grant writing isn’t hard, it’s damn hard. That moment reading the criteria for applying for a major award can feel like being at Everest base camp: you’ve worked hard to get where you are but you have a long, difficult road ahead. Professionally, I wear two hats. I am a health researcher and I am a writing instructor. Usually I am wearing one hat or the other, but grant writing is one area in my health research career where I find my background in writing comes in quite handy.

The purpose of this post is to remind you of a simple tool you learned in school that can be applied to win grants.

What do I know?

As a doctoral student I’ve successfully written four competitive grants, where competition is high and success rates are low. As a member of a research team, I’ve provided support for five more successful grants. More importantly, I’ve also written six unsuccessful grants, and provided support for two more unsuccessful grants. So as writer or collaborator, I’ve been involved in 17 grants.

I’ve also written at least a dozen non-competitive grants, where competition is negligible and success rates are high. Along the way I’ve learned a lot and now I want to share it on my blog.

Using the process writing to plan your grants

Everyone remembers the writing process from primary school:

Step 1: Pre-writing
Step 2: Drafting
Step 3: Revising
Step 4: Editing
Step 5: Final Draft

While process writing has been largely dismissed by writing scholars, in my experience as a writing instructor and health researcher the process writing is a wonderful approach for structuring grants. Why? Post-process writing approaches were developed to allow students space for creativity and reflection. Grant writing on the other hand is not the time for creativity or reflection. Unlike student writing, grant writing is regimental, businesslike, and systematic. To ensure all of the strict requirements of a grant are met, one needs to adhere to a strict process.

In the following weeks, I will be posting a serialized manual on the grant writing process.  Tune in each week, for the next step.  As a bonus challenge, consider taking a grant you are working on (or about to start), start from the first step, and work through the next few weeks with me.

But first, a needs assessment

In the comment section below, answer the following questions:
Q1:  What was the hardest part of your grant writing experience?
Q2:  Do you consider the above steps part of your grant writing?

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Other resources

Grant Writing – one of my past posts based on discussions with a local research officer

The Art of Writing a CIHR application – a useful government document with great tips for anyone, not just folks applying for CIHR

The Top 8 Things to do to write great grants – another useful CIHR resource


9 Tips on How to NOT get your paper published

McMaster UniveGeoff Normanrsity’s Professor Geoff Norman is a prominent figure in the Medical Education/Health Professions Education community. Along with co-authoring one of the most popular handbooks in Biostatistics, Norman is also a long-time editor for the Advance in Health Sciences Education journal.

In his journal’s most recent issue Norman offers up some tips on how to not get your paper published. I’ve highlighted my favourites–sound advice for academics and graduate students alike:

  1. Support your problem statement with the best available evidence (“Nice ideas finish last”)
    • Your paper must provide sufficient theoretical and empirical justification for why its problem statement is an important one.
  2. Conduct a thorough literature review early (“The world doesn’t need another mousetrap”)
    • Before beginning your study, ensure the same work has not been conducted before. If it has, ensure your problem statement and study design sufficiently expand past findings.
  3. Ensure data are consistent with the journal’s/disciplines expectations (“We don’t really care if your students loved the course”)
    • Norman reminds us that studies involving self-assessment as data are consistently uncorrelated with performance measures. (Eva and Regehr 2005)  While another journal may publish self-assessment data, Norman begs authors to consider whether their data is appropriate for journal/disciplinary conventions before submitting their manuscripts.
  4. Ask whether your findings are applicable in another context (“We are scientists, not inventors”)
    • In studies where a costly simulation device or complex intervention is designed, Norman warns authors not to presume that their findings should be of interest to a wider audience–taking special care when the research is aligned with an commercial interests (e.g., a device manufacturer)
  5. Ask whether your findings are interesting in another context (“The only people who care about education of pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga are pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga”)
    • Norman reminds us to think about an international audience for our work. It is incumbent on authors to figure out why researchers in different countries will care about their work.
  6. Disclose other venues in which your study has been published (“Salami slicing belongs in butcher shops”)
    • Salami slicing is the colloquial term for publishing the same study in multiple journals. While Norman admits that this is sometimes an appropriate practice, he reminds researchers to avoid self-plagiarism by writing the second study de novo rather than cutting and pasting swathes of text.
  7. Represent quantitative value with appropriate detail (“P values tell you whether it’s zero but little else”)
    • While a research team’s findings may be statistically significant, simply displaying an appropriate P value is insufficient. Norman reminds authors to include standard deviations, confidence intervals and effect sizes, best represented by good figures and graphs.
  8. Leave room for future research (“More research is always required”)
    • Avoid overstating the universal applicability of your results. Be specific about other research questions that remain to be answered in your work.

Leave your thoughts

What do you think? Am I missing anything obvious? Do you find the advice pedantic? I’d love to read your commends below.



Case Studies Workshop – CADTH Symposium 2014

Case Study Session

  • This portion of the workshop will divide the group in four or five.


Each group will be asked to identify an idea based from their own professional context involving social media being used (or potentially being used) for knowledge mobilization. Example can include but are not limited to:

  • Awareness raising
  • A set of new recommendations or guidelines
  • A health technology
  • The release of a new product
  • Academic research
  • Clinician/patient communication

Within the group:

  • What are your goals? Why involve social media?
  • What are the affordances of using social media?
  • What are the drawbacks?
  • What, if any, strategy can you envision?


Each group will be asked to identify a way in which they’ve encountered social media being used for knowledge mobilization. Suggestions will be made for each group to consider, but unique cases/case ideas are welcome. Here are some suggestions:

  • Look at the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign:
    • Recently launched in Canada
    • #CWC OR #Choosingwisely
  • Consider the antivaccinationists and social media:
  • Reflect on some best practices for conference hashtags:
    • How have you seen conference hashtags used well?
    • Have you seen arenas where hashtags were used poorly?
  • Pharmaceutical patient engagement or electronic direct-to-consumer advertising?
  • Review the recent CMAJ editorial on pharmaceutical companies’ use of social media to connect with patients
    • What are your thoughts? Is some corporate use of social media backfiring?

Within the Group:

  • Identify at least one related campaign you have encountered.
  • What resonates with you about this campaign?
  • What would you do differently? What worked for you?
  • Here are some examples
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