30 Reasons Your Grant Proposal May Not Have Been Funded

Why was my outstanding grant application disliked by the reviewer panel? Assuming that critiques of the proposal from the review panel are available, a careful and objective consideration of the comments provided will almost always provide an answer to this question.

One or more of the following 30 reasons may be identified. Among one of the easiest items in the list to address is failure to get a critical review from colleagues prior to submission, including a review of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors that collectively detract from the quality of the proposal. Therefore, it is essential that every applicant receive critical feedback from others before submitting any grant application.

As part of the proposal preparation planning, an applicant should identify three trusted colleagues (two of whom have interests related to the work and one who does not) to agree to read the application. These colleagues should be identified preferably 3-6 months before the due date, and the applicant should promise to send them the draft at least 1 month before the deadline. This promise should be honored as among the highest priorities. Then the applicant should carefully consider all comments and suggestions in preparation of the final draft.

Note that the items are not presented in order of importance. Any one of the reasons listed would be likely to negatively impact the evaluation of an applicant’s proposal.

  1. Lack of commitment by applicant (insufficient time allocated)
  2. Applicant failure to follow instructions
  3. Applicant use of outdated application format or instructions
  4. Ideas proposed not relevant to funding agency mission
  5. Little or no programmatic relevance because of…
  6. Applicant failure to communicate with agency program officer
  7. Applicant failure to convince reviewers of the need for the proposed work
  8. Applicant failure to provide strong rationale for the project
  9. Applicant failure to demonstrate adequate knowledge of published literature
  10. Lack of essential applicant experience
  11. Proposal “padded” by inclusion of non-essential personnel
  12. Missing evidence that environment is conducive to successful completion of the work
  13. Unrealistic amount of work proposed
  14. Methods proposed not appropriate for questions asked
  15. Missing or inappropriate statistical considerations
  16. Diffuse, superficial, or unorganized proposal
  17. Uncertain outcomes and/or future directions
  18. Applicant failure to consider potential problems or alternative strategies
  19. Interdependence of aims/goals
  20. Some aims irrelevant to testing hypothesis or achievement of overall objective
  21. Ideas too complicated to easily understand
  22. Applicant failure to consider perspectives or sensitivities of reviewers
  23. Too much detail/too many variables
  24. Reader-unfriendly application
  25. Application written to make applicant happy (but not reviewers)
  26. Applicant failure to address all agency review criteria
  27. Unrealistic budget proposed
  28. Lack of adequate budget justification
  29. Misinterpretation of deadline for application
  30. Failure to get critical review from colleagues prior to submission

Excerpted from the Grant Writers’ Seminars & Workshops blogs February 9, 2017 and March 30, 2017.