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COMMON REASONS FOR RESEARCH GRANT APPLICATION REJECTION

You can increase your chances of getting your grant application approved by knowing the reasons for rejection, according to Microsoft Research. These are the reasons:

1. It is not clear what question (or problem) is being addressed by the proposal. In particular, it is not clear what the outcome of the research might be, or what would constitute success or failure. It is vital to discuss what contribution to human knowledge would be made by the research.

2. The question being addressed is woolly or ill-formed. The committee are looking for evidence of clear thinking both in the formulation of the problem and in the planned attack on it.
 
3. It is not clear why the question is worth addressing. The proposal must be well motivated.

4. The proposal is just a routine application of known techniques. Research funding agencies are interested in funding research rather than development. Industry is expected to fund development work. The LINK scheme is appropriate for proposals which combine both research and development. If the development would benefit another research field, rather than industry, then look to the funding agencies of that field.

5. Industry ought to be doing it (the project) instead. If the work is “near market” then it should be done by industry or industry or venture capital should be funding you to do it. If no industry is interested then the prima facie assumption is that the product has no commercial value.

6. There is no evidence that the proposers will succeed where others have failed. It is easy enough to write a proposal with an exciting-sounding wish-list of hoped-for achievements, but you must substantiate your goals with solid evidence of why you have a good chance of achieving them.

This evidence generally takes two main forms:

    1. “We have an idea”. In this case, you should sketch the idea, and describe preliminary work you have done which shows that it is indeed a good idea. You are unlikely to get funding without such evidence. It is not good saying “give us the money and we will start thinking about this problem”.
  1. “We have a good track record”. Include a selective list of publications, and perhaps include a short paper (preferably a published one) which gives more background, as an appendix. If you make it clear that it is an appendix, you won't usually fall foul of any length limits.

7. A new idea is claimed but insufficient technical details of the idea are given for the committee to be able to judge whether it looks promising. Since the committee cannot be expert in all areas there is a danger of overwhelming them with technical details, but it is better to err by overwhelming them than by underwhelming them. They will usually get an expert referee to evaluate your idea.
 
8. The proposers seem unaware of related research. Related work must be mentioned, if only to be dismissed. Otherwise, the committee will think that the proposers are ignorant and, therefore, not the best group to fund. The case for support should have a list of references like any paper, and you should look at it to check it has a balanced feel - your referee will do so. Do not make the mistake of giving references only to your own work.

9. The proposed research has already been done - or appears to have been done. Rival solutions must be discussed and their inadequacies revealed.

10. The proposal is badly presented, or incomprehensible to all but an expert in the field. Remember that your proposal will be read by non-experts as well as (hopefully) experts. A good proposal is simultaneously comprehensible to non-experts, while also convincing experts that you know your subject. Keep highly-technical material in well-signposted section(s); avoid it in the introduction.

11. The proposers seem to be attempting too much for the funding requested and time-scale envisaged. Such lack of realism may reflect a poor understanding of the problem or poor research methodoloy.


12. The proposal is too expensive for the probable gain. If it is easy to see how to cut the request for people/equipment/travel, etc. to something more reasonable then it might be awarded in reduced form. More likely, it will be rejected.

13. The proponent institution should be funding it. Research agencies will usually only fund research that requires resources beyond that which might be expected in a "well-found laboratory" --- indeed, this is part of the charter of the research councils. If it looks like your proposal might be done by a PhD student on the departmental computer then that is what should happen. If the proposer's laboratory is not "well-found" then this is taken to be a vote of no-confidence in the proponent by his/her institution.

Often, one can tell from independent knowledge of the proposers or by reading between the lines of the proposal, that the criteria could have been met if a little bit more thought had gone into the proposal.

14. There is a clear question being addressed by the research, but the proposers failed to clarify what it was.

15. The proposers are aware of related research, but they failed to discuss it in the proposal.

16. The proposers do have some clear technical ideas, but they thought it inappropriate to go into such detail in the proposal. Unfortunately, there is a limit to which a funding agency can give such cases the benefit of the doubt. It is not fair for referees to overlook shortcomings in proposals of which they have personal knowledge if similar shortcomings are not overlooked in proposals which they have not encountered before. In any case, proposals which do meet the criteria deserve precedence.