A lot of the difficulty of writing grant applications stems from the uncertainty of the process. What are assessors looking for? What are they looking to criticise? What kind of stuff ticks them off?
Once you’ve seen enough grant applications, with the positive and negative feedback that comes with it, you start to build a picture of what it is the assessors are looking at. This is why a significant portion of our internal grant writing manual is dedicated to the positive and negative feedback about each question.
Knowing what the feedback looks like means that you can anticipate things that assessors might find fault with. You can review your own answer and see whether any of the criticisms below might apply to your application.
Without further ado, here are samples of negative feedback gleaned from both successful and unsuccessful applications, with some additional commentary.
“There is not a great deal of novel thinking in the approach suggested.”
This type of brief and brutal negative feedback occurs when the assessor is not inspired by the answer.
“The fundamental issues behind the opportunity are not clearly expressed.”
If the idea is not explained very clearly, so that it can be grasped in a single glance, expect this type of criticism.
“The business opportunity is plausible but a little optimistic and the linkage between the project and the predicted outcomes is not convincing.”
At the opposite of the not-inspiring-enough range, sometimes the answer is too optimistic, too fluffy. The other criticism here is that although the business sounds great (too great), it doesn’t seem to be directly connected to the project. See our cohesion article.
“The business opportunity is related to an internal business area. It is unclear how this links to a defined technical innovation project.”
Projects, in particular software projects, need to have very broad impacts outside of the company. If the opportunity is only for bolstering the sales of the company, and shows little benefits to other parties, this will often be the feedback.
“The business opportunity is poorly defined. The customer’s needs are not well explained and are not linked to the projects objectives…”
In Question 1, it is very important to not only define what the project consist of, but also what customer needs it will fulfil, and how it will achieve that. In other words, you want to explain what the project is, what is the major customer pain point you’re solving, and how the project solves it.
“While the business opportunity is realistic, it is not clear from the application exactly what the eventual project outcomes will be.”
Outcomes should also be defined. This is a sign that the project has not been explained clearly enough, in particular the tangible deliverables of the project.
“The application does not make it clear what the project consists of it seems to be just support for an undoubtedly beneficial general undertaking. The applicants need to explain exactly what is the prototype they want to develop.”
Again, it is important to be very clear about what the project consists of. One of the questions on the assessors’ minds will be: “is the project actually connected to the business opportunity?” You should make it easy for them to answer that question.
“A plausible business opportunity is identified, that could provide some different, identified, user groups, with a valuable service. It is not clear whether the applicants know about or understand existing, similar, services.”
One of the goals of Question 1 is to establish credibility. This particular answer clearly failed with this particular assessor. Make it clear in this section that you’re aware of what else is going on in your sector, and how your new technology is positioned within that context.
“The proposal sets out a clear business opportunity based on description of a business need, however little evidence is provided to demonstrate the validity of this issue as a real problem.”
Although a convincing case has been made, it hasn’t been supported with enough objective evidence (ideally with some named sources, if possible), to make the case that this is more than wishful thinking.
Where to find more…
Of course, there are many more pieces of feedback and advice. This is just a start. Our internal grant writing manual contains much more advice, and other feedback samples, both positive and negative.
However, hopefully, this will be helpful if you’re struggling with Question 1 and wondering what to write there.