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Grants and Grantsmanship

Ideas about where to find funding and how to ask for it

Generating ideas

Finding your research niche

Once you’ve decided to pursue research and apply for funding opportunities, you need some ideas and a sense of direction.  Suitable research questions can come from several directions – your personal or professional experiences, an idea closely related to your thesis or dissertation research, conversations with colleagues, and existing research.  As your first step in idea generation, you want to find an opening for yourself that has not been fully explored and where you can make contributions.  Here are some more details on finding your research niche.

        Conversations with colleagues.  Networking is a critical part of the research process at many stages including step one.  In addition to discussing your ideas with your department colleagues, you might consider presenting at conferences, acting as a reviewer for papers, serving on panels and advisory councils.

        Selecting a research area close to your dissertation usually means you are already passionate about it and you have a track record from data collection and publications.  Be sure that you are pursuing an idea that is yours alone and not too close to your advisor’s research area. 

        Conducting a preliminary literature review at this stage can be very useful.  You will discover how unique your idea is, the major work already done in the area and who the major investigators are.  More details on searching are available in the Literature Review section of this guide.  Looking for review articles will help you build your knowledge quickly.  Review article authors have already surveyed, analyzed and synthesized relevant literature.  They may also have identified gaps in the research.  “Review” is a limit in most databases. 

        While reading, you might consider where the authors came up with their ideas, what their research accomplished and how it might relate to other work.  Are there way in which you can expand on the ideas?  One source suggests that your search be comprehensive as possible.  You can accomplish this by using truncation, wildcards and synonyms for your search terms. 

        Once you get started with the preliminary literature review, it is important to see it through to the end.  As your knowledge builds, your ideas will evolve.  You will also want to be absolutely sure that you are acquainted with all the research in your subject area and that someone else has not moved into the niche you have targeted ahead of you.

        As you conduct your literature review, having an account in the database will help track your searches when you can edit later or rerun.  Usually the Sign In link is in the upper right corner of the database home page.  After your account is created, you can set up current awareness alerts as well as save your searches.  This account is with the database producer rather than each database so you will have access to it in any of the producer’s databases.  For example, an account created in Ovid’s Medline will also be available to you in PsycINFO, JBI, and HealthStar.

Finding a long term research goal

After deciding on a research area to pursue, you should identify a long term goal, one that can be reached in more than one grant and within your career.  Next you should establish a continuum of fundable research projects that will enable you to accomplish your long term goal.  Having the goal in place will help you with decision making about grant opportunities to pursue.  Research should dictate the funding and not the other way around.  Having a sense of direction will reduce the temptation to jump around.

Establishing a track record

As a new researcher, you may not yet have a body of publications to demonstrate the quality of your work.  Other researchers will want to read about your preliminary findings which you should consider publishing.  You might also conduct a pilot study not only to publish but also to demonstrate to grant reviewers that your research idea has merit.

Assess for success

There is just one more step with research idea generation.  You should reflect on your capability to succeed.  Do you have the expertise to reach your first grant funded project?  Should you consider collaborating?  Have a consultant to fill in any gaps?  Are the resources available?  Most importantly, do you have the time?  What have others been doing?  You can check databases of currently funded projects to find out.  Both NIH and NSF make such databases available, REPORTER and Recent Awards.  While you are reading, you might make a list of keywords used to describe relevant projects and the names of investigators.  Do these lists correlate to the lists you have made during your literature review readings?



Basic Tips- Generating Your Idea | Office of Sponsored Programs | Carthage College. (2017). from

Cronan, M., & Deckard, L. (2016). New Faculty Guide to Competing for Research Funding , 2nd ed. (pp. 5-9). College Station, TX: Academic Research Funding Strategies.

Eight steps to turn your ideas into grants. (2017). from

Russell, S. W., & Morrison, D. C. (2017). The Grant Application Writer's Workbook - NIH Version (pp. 8-13). Buellton, CA: Grant Writers' Seminars and Workshops.

Education related research

Education related topics and outreach are also viable for research.  You may already have strong feelings about an educational issue in your field.  There are other factors such as the mission and priorities of your institution.  Is your college or university attracting students in a particular demographic?  Is there a priority to increase enrollment by particular groups?  Have others tried out ideas that you would like to implement in your academic setting?  You might also review recent issues of the education journal in your field such as the Journal of Chemical Education.  Like disciplinary research, you should have a track record.  Is there some small community service you can provide to establish a foundation?  You might also consider a pilot study and then publish a discussion of the results.


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