The ability to win research grants is essential to success in science and academic survival. Unfortunately, grants are highly competitive. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation receive nearly 70,000 grant proposals each year and fund only one-quarter to one-third of them. Peer review of grant applications is difficult to endure, so do all that you can to load the deck in your favor.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Funding Sources
Become familiar with sources of funding for the type of research that you conduct. Examine the websites of federal funding agencies and check the announcements areas for current information.
Discuss your plans with a program officer at the agency to which you plan to apply for funds. The program officer can answer questions about review of your proposal and can provide information that can guide your application.
Include a Detailed Review of the Literature
Show that you've done your homework. Cite the major research to demonstrate your handle on the scientific literature in your discipline. Reference work from your lab, but also work from competing labs (you never know who will review your proposal!).
Carefully prepare your grant application. If your proposal is written poorly, it will not be taken seriously.
Give Reviewers a Reason to Fund Your Proposal
Your proposal should leave reviewers with a clear understanding of your objectives as well as the implications of your research. What is the applied relevance of your work? Be sure that your proposal answers the question, "So what?" Convince the reviewers that your research question is worth an answer and that the answer will be of use to the world.
Seek Constructive Criticism
Get feedback on a draft of your grant proposal. Ask a trusted colleague to review it, spot holes, and offer suggestions to strengthen your proposal.
Understand that most proposals are not funded. Take advantage of the comments and advice that you receive through the review process and sharpen your application for the next round of grant applications.