Our guidance for writing a good research grant application.

1. Allow yourself time

Preparing a draft proposal and consulting on it, preparing the project costings and getting advice on these, as well as reading the regulations of the Research Grants (open call) to learn what is and what is not permissible, are all time-consuming parts of the process of application. 

There are four key documents for applicants applying to our Research Grants scheme:

2. Study your funding source

All funding agencies will have their own criteria for deciding on allocation of their resources. It is worth while taking time to familiarise yourself with these and ensuring that your proposal clearly addresses your targeted source of support.  

We are an agency funded by the government and its mission is “to promote and support by any means, high quality, basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in the social sciences; to advance knowledge and provide trained social scientists which meets the needs of users and beneficiaries, thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the UK, the effectiveness of public services and policy, and the quality of life; and, to provide advice on, and disseminate knowledge and promote public understanding of, the social sciences”.

All  successful ESRC research grants demonstrate four characteristics. They must:

  • promise excellent research
  • be of value to potential users outside or within the research community
  • convince of the ability to deliver research
  • demonstrate value for money (not necessarily the same as cheapness).

Further information relating to how proposals are peer reviewed and the standards against which you will be judged are provided within ESRC’s Peer Reviewer Training tool - this is an online course which takes around an hour to complete, although it is possible to dip in and out as well. 

3. Read the guidance documents

...and the Je-S helptext which is designed to help you through the ‘filling in’ process. This cannot be over-stressed; familiarising yourself with the content of the Research Funding Guide may seem tedious but will help you to avoid basic mistakes which at best will require clarification with office staff and at worst may prejudice chances of success. Please abide by the rules, since they are there to ensure a level playing field for all applicants, and applications which break the rules will either be returned for amendment or office rejected. Make sure you are using the current versions of guidance as rules and regulations are subject to change. If in doubt, check with the named ESRC contact for the call.

4. Discuss your proposal

...with peer groups, colleagues and, if you are a relatively new researcher, with senior and more experienced researchers. Experienced collaboration or mentoring rarely goes amiss. If you have never sent in a proposal to the us before try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful. Talk to your research office and draw on the support that they can give you in putting together your application and calculating your costings.

Remember to contact the people you intend to nominate as referees to ensure that they are willing to act in this capacity. It is not uncommon for nominated referees to be unaware of the substance of the work they are asked to comment on, have little knowledge of the applicant or their work, or give a very poor grading. Some have even declined to comment!

5. Justify your costings

...which should be considered with care and close reference to our Research Funding Guide. A maximum of two sides of A4 is allowed on the compulsory Justification of Resources attachment to the application. Be realistic - lavish costings are unlikely to find favour with Panel Members and a proposal which promises the earth at remarkably low expense will be regarded with caution. 

Panels take a very dim view of proposals where the costings have been padded to reach the lower financial threshold for the call, and if potential cuts would take the overall cost of the proposal below the threshold the proposal will not be funded.

You need to provide clear and convincing justification of your costings and should think carefully about the time and resources needed to complete the research successfully within the specified period. Grants will be based on the eligible costings included in proposals and will be subject to standard indexation and be cash limited at the time of announcement so it is important to get costings right when applying. A well thought out financial plan helps to create confidence in the proposal generally. Give as detailed a breakdown of costs as possible so that the Panel can properly assess the case for support. Do make sure that what you are asking for is allowed within the regulations. Bear in mind that ESRC is looking for value for money, and that proposals which offer poor value for money will be scored down by Panels, even when the science may be excellent.