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Research | Getting Started | Funding

Getting Started | Funding



            Making your grant proposal successful

          Sources of pharmacy practice research funding


Making your grant proposal successful


So you’ve had the idea and designed your study, you’ve read ‘Taking the first steps’ and you are ready to write your funding proposal. There are several factors that may enhance your chances of a successful application.


You must give consideration to the audience that will review your application. Typically this will comprise referees (experts in your own field of research who will approached by whichever funding body you apply to and asked to provide detailed comments) and the funding body’s peer review panel (experts in the general subject area of the proposal, who will subsequently rank your proposal against other bids competing for the same, limited funding).


You will need to convince referees of the value of your approach, so emphasise the important things and relate them to the funding criteria identified in the application form. Consider what is novel or exciting about the research and try to convey this. The panel will be looking at a number of prop­osals so yours must make an impact and be of excellent scientific quality if it is to stand out. There are numerous funding bodies out there, and each has its own rules governing issues ranging from who may apply for research grants to the content of grant appli­cations. It is essential to confirm your eligibility to apply before investing your time in preparing an application. Most research grant applications comprise two main parts:


·         The application form

·         The case for support


Case for support

The case for support is a description of the problem your research will investigate, the proposed research methodology, the likely impact, etc. Because the detailed requirements can vary so much from one funder to the next, it is essential to read all the guidance available and to stick with any suggested template. A good case for support should provide a brief summary for a non-specialist audience, clarifying the research to be undertaken. The main body of the document should then cover the purpose of your project, its background, the methods to be used, how the research could be exploited and any collaborators.


·         Purpose

As well as providing a convincing case for originality and quality of your proposal, you need to make the purpose of your research clear by writing concise aims and objectives.


·         Background

You need to describe your pro­posal in the context of current knowledge and the potential value of furthering this knowledge. Citing relevant key publica­tions also shows you are aware of other researchers and groups doing similar work. Grant applications are not rejected just because others are doing similar work. However, if you are unable to describe the unique nature and novelty of your approach and the likelihood of success when compared with others, the value of your proposal may be questioned. It is particularly important to highlight any pilot project work you’ve done.


·         Project

Describe the methods and tech­niques to be used and the expected outputs (e.g. a new dosage form or improved patient safety). If the project is highly speculative, show you have considered various possible outcomes. You also need to reassure your audience that alternative methods and techniques have been considered and that the likelihood of success of the different approaches has been assessed. Management of the project should be well thought out, especially if your project is potentially difficult to co-ordinate. You should indicate how the project is to be managed and/or supervised as well as a timetable for completion.


·         Potential impact of your study

Where appropriate, the exploitation potential of the research should be explained - if your idea succeeds, what impact could it have, and on whom? For example, your practice research may be taken up by primary care trusts to reach health targets.


·         Collaborations

The involvement (role and responsi­bilities) of any collaborators should be included in your case for support. Collaborators may bring ideas, expertise and resources (e.g. undergraduate researchers). Citing influential organisations or individuals may help your cause.


·         Resources

Adequate and realistic resources for the research should be requested and must be justified. Staff salaries often form the major component of a grant, although some grants are made for equipment only (don’t forget to include the employer’s contributions to the researcher’s pension etc – speak to your manager if you’re not sure about this). Cite the value of any external collaborative support, the existing infra­structure available to your research group, and any other support provided by your depart­ment or organisation. Be sure that what you ask for is relevant to your project and be aware that different fund­ing bodies will have different rules about how to treat overheads and what costs are admissi­ble. Take care not to request inadmissible costs. They will be removed without hesita­tion and will reduce the apparent cost­ effectiveness of your proposal. You may need help to navigate your way through these regulations and in structuring your budget. Most Trusts or univer­sities have a research administration or research support office that should offer this support.

Some things that are commonly overlooked when applying for funds include: the cost of any training for the researcher, travel expenses, and the costs of any specialist literature searches or statistics advice/software.


·         Other considerations

Different funding organisations will have different guidelines for the layout (e.g. structure and length) of your case for support. Some are more prescriptive than others. If little guidance is given, consider your audience. Do not make your proposal difficult to read by using text smaller than 10 points, for example. Space is often a serious constraint and a huge bundle of paper can be off-putting. The general rule is that all you need to get across is that you have a good, relevant idea and you know what you are doing.



Peer review

Peer review is widely used to assist in reaching funding decisions. However, the process does vary from one funding body to another, so find out as much as you can about the procedure that will be used in your case. Obtaining the referees’ instructions and panel assessment criteria is a good way of focusing your mind on the structure of your case.


Nominating referees

Many funding organisations require appli­cants to nominate one or more of the refer­ees to review their proposal. It may be useful to bear the following points in mind:

·         Choose, as far as possible, experts with a good reputation in your area, who will be able to comment on your proposal with­out a conflict of interest (i.e. will your proposal be seen as competition for the referee's work?). A collaborator on a previous project could be a good candidate.

·         At a practical level, a simple check on availability can avoid undue delay in consideration of your proposal. You do not need to approach prospective referees in advance but it would be courteous and helpful to brief them on what you hope to achieve.

·         Do not be afraid, if appropriate, to notify the funding organisation if you feel there is any apparently suitable person who should not be approached for a reference because they may be biased.


Finishing touches

Once you have completed the form and case for support ask a colleague (ideally, someone experienced in peer review or with a good track record of getting funding) to look at your proposal and provide constructive criticisms, if appropriate. If any problems or omissions can be smoothed out before submission it can only benefit you and reduce the need for referees and panel members to ask for further clarification.

Finally, think about what you will do if the granting body decides not to give you all the money you’ve asked for. What is your fall-back position? What is the minimum amount of money you would accept and how would that affect the research? Don’t put this in your written submission, but think about it in advance in case you get a phone call or email offering you less than you expect. Sometimes you will have to give a quick response.


What if I fail?

Availability of funding is always an issue and it is inevitable that many high quality propos­als fail at the last hurdle due to limited funds. If you are unsuccessful do not be too disappointed. There will be other opportunities. If you have applied the above principles, at least your proposal was not rejected because it was poorly prepared. If it is possible, ask why your application was refused and use the feedback to inform future applications. Sometimes a helpful response is that the research is better suited to another funding body, in which case ask for a named person to be referred to. A personal recommendation is valuable.




We are grateful to Ben Ryan and the Pharmaceutical Journal for allowing us to reproduce sections of their article ‘Make your grant proposal successful’ (PJ, 17 April 2004).




Sources of pharmacy practice research funding

Identifying potential funders can be the most demanding step in getting your practice research project of the ground. Although some organisations offer small awards of up to £5K, securing larger awards for substantial pieces of work can be more challenging.


A good first step is to check http://www.rdinfo.org.uk/ - this is a Department of Health funded site that gives direct access to information on health-related funding opportunities. This should direct you to the awards offered by the RPS (Sir Hugh Linstead1  and Galen awards), as well as the UKCPA, Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists, and relevant charities and patient groups, amongst others.


For larger awards, try the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). This offers various funding streams to support a mixture of commissioned and non-commissioned work. The streams most likely to be of relevance are the Research for Patient Benefit, Service Delivery and Organisation, and Policy Research programmes. In addition the National Co-ordinating Centre for Research Capacity Development (NCCRCD), which feeds into the NIHR, will pay the salary of applicants through its Fellowship scheme, and is intended to develop future researchers.



1 Must be of benefit to community pharmacy or must be a community pharmacist to apply.