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The tag currently has the description "Academic grants are non-repayable funds disbursed by government, trust, foundation or a society." The tag currently has no description.

I am currently in the process of formally naming the forms of monetary support that my university's research council is providing to its employees. My question is:

Is there any formal document that describes the difference between a grant and an award?

I'm also interested in how the terms grant and award differ from other terms such as incentive, fellowship, scholarship, professorial chair, and so on.

For example, I know that one who is applying for a grant submits a proposal to be able to get funding for an activity that has not yet been done. I also know that some awards require nominations (and some disallow self-nomination) and are given for work that has already been done. I know that grants usually require liquidation of the monetary support given; I am not sure if the same is true for awards. Grants sometimes have clauses where the recipient is to return the monetary support if he or she fails to submit the expected outputs; I am not sure if the same is true for awards.

  • I am arbitrarily choosing to give the bounty to Argalatyr's answer, but I have found all the three existing answers equally useful. – Joel Reyes Noche Jan 19 '14 at 9:52
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    As of 01/15/2019, noting tag Awards now has description: "Questions concerning special recognition for particular achievements, usually assessed competitively, within academia." – iokevins Jan 16 at 0:33
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    Also, tag [Grants] no longer seems to exist; it now redirects to tag [Funding], with description, "Questions related to source and utilization of academic funding from government or non-governmental sources." – iokevins Jan 16 at 4:29
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I think you basically answered your own question: grants are something where you apply and get money based on what you say you will do. Awards are something you get for work you already did. Some awards do not include any money. I doubt you'll find an authoritative document, because there's no organization that sets rules for the entire academic community. I could image a certain amount of overlap/fuzz, so there could be things that one school/organization calls a grant that somewhere else might call an award.

A confusing additional fact is that the term "award" is also often used as a verb applied to the noun "grant", as in "Professor X was awarded a grant for . . .". I would not call this "an award" in the noun sense; it is a grant, and "awarding a grant" means "giving a grant" or "deciding who gets a grant". To me "an award" is the sort of thing described with "Professor X won the ABC Award for . . ."

Here is a page talking about grants vs. "gifts" that restates some of the distinctions you already mentioned, but this is just one accounting context at one university.

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    If the NIH and NSF are suitable sources, then you'll see from my answer that this answer is incorrect. If someone successfully applies for a grant from the NIH or NSF, they'll then receive a Notice of Award that will spell out how the funds will be disbursed, in advance of the work to be done. – Argalatyr Jan 12 '14 at 7:12
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    What you or might want to call an award isn't really the question. The terms as used by the NSF and NIH (cited in my answer) seem authoritative. – Argalatyr Jan 14 '14 at 1:57
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    in the "Academia", when speaking about "grants" and "awards", the authoritative source IS the funding agencies - they tell us what is a "grant" and what is an "award". The suggestion that this is more an English language question is missing the point entirely - it's all about the academic context. – Argalatyr Sep 28 '16 at 2:03
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    Note: link now returns 404 Not Found; it seems Tufts staff replaced it with: viceprovost.tufts.edu/RAD/receiving-an-award (accordion list item "Sponsored Award vs. Gift"; accessed 01/15/2019). I have not evaluated whether the new link has the same text or continues to support the point of the paragraph. – iokevins Jan 15 at 23:16
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    @iokevins, the overall context is "Academic", and the OP said, "...the forms of monetary support...". Thanks for giving this a thorough look. – Argalatyr Jan 21 at 23:49
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+50

For the United States of America's NIH and NSF, a grant is a contractual agreement for work that will be done, with payments in anticipation of the work. An award is the actual funds. This description of the NIH Notice of Award and this one from NSF may illustrate the distinction.

Update: Here is an additional document from NIH entitled, "Awards Conditions and Information for NIH Grants" that underscores the distinction I've already made.

  • Thank you for this. I hadn't thought of this distinction. – Joel Reyes Noche Jan 12 '14 at 12:33
  • This is ridiculous. (Not your answer, the IMHO misuse of the words. Nevertheless, I'm not a native speaker, still, this goes against all English senses I've ever gotten,) – yo' Jan 12 '14 at 19:46
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    Not ridiculous, really (for me as a native speaker, anyway). You apply for a grant, and when that is selected for an award then you receive a Notice of Award, linked to that grant. – Argalatyr Jan 14 '14 at 2:00
  • Specifically, 31 U.S.C. 6302, 6304 defines a grant agreement as a "legal instrument" and Federal agencies shall use it when the "... principal purpose ... is to transfer a thing of value ... to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation ...." and when "substantial involvement is not expected between the [parties involved] ...." – iokevins Jan 16 at 6:46
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I don't think there is a distinction, and if there is, it is very subtle. Looking at the US NIH list of Types of Grant Programs a subset of the activity codes considered "research grants" include

R01 NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01)

R15 NIH Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA)

R21 NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21)

So some grants are grants and some are awards and some are both.

In addition to "grants" the NIH has a line of K-Awards. The names of these do not ever use the term "grant, but the FOA generally says that the funding type is "Grant". For example for the K01

Funding Instrument - Grant: A support mechanism providing money, property, or both to an eligible entity to carry out an approved project or activity.

Once you bring Fellowships into the game, things get even crazier. The NIH has the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA). The F32 is an award, fellowship, and grant while the T32 is an award and a grant, but not a fellowship.

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