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Compared to writing a research paper, I found writing a grant proposal to be much more intimidating, because there aren't any finished products that I can compare to. I am wondering if there are any good samples out there so that I can see what good proposals are like, especially for social sciences. Thanks!

Related question: maybe I am naive, why don't NSF and other funding agencies publish the full proposal of the ones that were accepted, say 5, 10 years after the funding ends? It seems to me that these older projects should have wrapped up already and there are probably minimal risk of being scooped.

25

Your best bet is probably to ask your colleagues if they would have you let a look at their (successful) grant proposals. That way you can also ask questions.

16

Many universities have a unit devoted to providing support with grant applications. Often they will have a database of previous grants (from members of the university), which you can examine.

11

If you are writing proposals for NSF consider volunteering as a reviewer in your discipline. This way you have both the opportunity to see a number of proposals and discuss them critically with others in your area. It is not a short term solution as it involves a significant committment of time and energy, but in addition to helping with your own proposals, you provide a valuable service and gain the opportunity to network with others in your area.

NSF also has a number of workshops on grant-writing that may help, but you likely will not see actual proposals during the workshop. In my area, NSF hosts a conference every 18 months with a number of grant-writing or career development break-out sessions which may help with the proposal writing process.

7

A good start would seem to be compilations of grant proposals that have been made public by their authors, e.g. here.

A more long-term approach would be to work on making grant proposals public more systematically, as discussed here.

6

There is now a dedicated site Open Grants (https://www.ogrants.org/) which states

An increasing number of researchers are sharing their grant proposals openly. They do this to open up science so that all stages of the process can benefit from better interaction and communication and to provide examples for early career scientists writing grants. This is a list of 132 of these proposals to help you find them.

Of course, that number keeps going up.

1

The obvious premise, that imitating succesful proposals makes a new proposal more likely to be successful, is plausibly true, up to a point. Namely, sure, silly language or silly formatting or silly worldview or obvious ignorance of prior work will not get funding. But these things are relatively superficial. Avoiding those loud failures will not guarantee funding, rather, they are just entry barriers... sanity checks. Avoiding them will just get you to the starting line.

1

A few possible sources:

  1. Ask friends and colleagues. Many are happy to share their proposals in confidence.
  2. Find out if your institution has a grant development office - and if they have a collection of old proposals to look at. Some of them maintain collections like this.
  3. Following up on #2, find out if your institution, department, etc. has a group engaged in "proposal red teaming", wherein you review in-development proposals from your peers as if you were an external reviewer.
  4. Try to become a proposal reviewer - for internal grant projects, or NIH/NSF study sections, etc.

There are also some groups that have been using FOIA requests to see grant proposals written at public institutions. Doing that is extremely controversial, and while legal, likely falls in the "bad academic citizenship" category.

Related question: maybe I am naive, why don't NSF and other funding agencies publish the full proposal of the ones that were accepted, say 5, 10 years after the funding ends? It seems to me that these older projects should have wrapped up already and there are probably minimal risk of being scooped.

These proposals often contain long-term or overarching research plans that may not be complete in five years, unpublished data, etc. My guess is its easier to simply not than to try to parse that out and/or redact that information.

0

A proposal in response to an EU call is currently being drafted in the open here. For background, see here.

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