More and Better Grant Proposals? The Evaluation of a Grant-Writing Group at a Mid-Sized Canadian University

by SRA International on Thursday, December 21, 2017

In a series of articles, we will present the newest in research administration from the Journal of Research Administration. To read the full JRA, please see here

Natasha G. Wiebe, University of Windsor; Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, University of Windsor

External or extramural funding is essential to conducting much academic research and, in many departments with graduate programs, to providing financial support and research experience for graduate students. Success in obtaining such funding also enhances the reputation of researchers and their universities. However, in Canada, obtaining external funding has become increasingly difficult for researchers from the social sciences and humanities due to a serious decline in granting- council funding in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2007 (CAUT, 2013). The corresponding decline in grant success rates makes identifying and implementing strategies for increasing success in funding competitions ever more important for researchers and universities alike. This article describes implementation of one such strategy, an 8-month grant-writing group at a mid-sized Canadian university. The goal of the grant-writing group was to increase submissions and success in external funding competitions among researchers in humanities and social science related disciplines with three specific objectives: (a) to strengthen grant-writing skills of participants;
(b) to increase submissions to both internal and external funding competitions, recognizing the importance of internal funding as a launchpad for external grants; and (c) to increase success rates in funding competitions. The grant-writing group strategy is presented here within the context of the literature on predictors of, and strategies to enhance, success in external funding competitions and various indicators of the degree of success of the group in meeting its objectives.

Literature Review


Literature on enhancing success in external funding is found primarily in the field of research administration. To find relevant literature in this field, we searched tables of contents of major journals (e.g., Journal of Research Administration, Research Management Review, Journal of the Grants Professionals Association) as well as the reference lists of articles. While this literature includes grant-writing workshops among the strategies for enhancing success, we had to turn to the creative writing literature for details related to the methods, strategies, and dynamics of writing groups. We relied on books on creative writing and writing groups, and expanded outward using references from these books.

This approach produced 39 articles and one book chapter summarized in Table 1. Thirty of these focused on success in obtaining external funding, and 13 addressed the dynamics of writing groups. Lead authors included 12 who were in administrative positions at universities or research organizations and 16 faculty members. The administrators were more likely to publish several articles while faculty most often published only one. Most publications came from research       or experiences in the United States, with one from Australia, two from Canada, and one from Uganda. The 30 publications that addressed strategies to enhance success covered three thematic areas: (a) predictors of success (n=6), (b) what can or has been done by colleges and universities to enhance success (n=16), and (c) barriers to and enablers of submitting funding proposals (n=8). Of the 13 publications that specifically addressed writing groups, four focused on writing for funding, and the remainder on writing for postsecondary courses or publication.

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