4. The application form

Once you have your research question, design, team and have identified your potential funding source, you need to fill in the paperwork. This is basically your research proposal with some additional questions most funders ask.

The form will go through lots of versions (we went up to version 9) with sending drafts out, getting feedback, revising the draft and then sending it round again. Scott’s tip, which I agree with, is to just get something sent round. It might not be complete, and could be pretty rough, but get it sent out. The reason I think this is a good approach is that otherwise you might waste a lot of time and effort on something which then ends up being completely changed. It’s better to get the input at an early stage and develop the application with the help of your team.

I have to say that in my experience, the application process for grants is pretty transparent and there is a lot of information and guidance available to those writing applications. The key is to not ignore it! Your application will be evaluated based on the guidance which has been provided, so it’s in your interest to follow it to give yourself the best chance possible of being successful. This includes the supplementary documents to the application (for the Clinical Pharmacy Research Grant this includes a CV for the chief investigator, statements of support for any collaborators in the research and a Gantt chart) as well as the application form itself.

Predicting the costs of the research project can be particularly tricky so I would suggest getting help with this from a finance department if you can. Be realistic about costs, funders are more concerned that a project can be delivered, rather than be delivered cheaply. Make sure everything is included not forgetting your time (plus on-costs), materials and consumables you’ll need, transcribing (if qualitative), travel expenses, PPI time (there are a number of ways to cost this – see links), teas and coffees for participants for focus groups, postage and packaging for any correspondence, NHS service support costs (see links) and if the research grant allows it, training.

One of things I struggled with for the EMULSION project was writing an application for a qualitative research project. Most funders don’t specify the methodology with which research must be done, however the fact is that most research in health is quantitative. This can present a challenge to those of us writing qualitative research projects because some of the questions that funders ask just simply aren’t as relevant. The classic example is around expected outcomes. Especially for EMULSION which uses a Grounded Theory approach (I will blog on this later) we simply do not know what we will find out and what the outcomes of the project will be to any level of specificity. However, navigating these types of application forms is a necessary part of the course. Don’t give up and just bear in mind that as part of the application you will need to be very clear about the approach you are taking, why and how you’re going to do it. I’m reassured by the success of EMULSION that perceptions of qualitative research are changing, and that it is increasingly being seen as a valuable way to conduct research in health. I should also point out that the funding application isn’t the only place this comes up; ethics, governance and publication applications all suffer the same flaws when it comes to qualitative research but please don’t let this put you off this extremely important methodology.

The final note is to keep track of the deadlines and think about how the application is submitted. If it’s electronic then that’s not too much bother, but bear in mind that prior to submission you need to get all you co-investigators to sign the form (usually electronically) before your submit. In my case, I had to have the application signed off by the university before I had even applied to the funder, which had I realised, I would have started that process earlier! The Clinical Pharmacy Research Grant was a paper based application so I needed to think about making sure there were the right number of copies and documents included, and making sure that it reached the required address in time for the deadline.

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