Book Review: The Grantseeker's Toolkit

By Cheryl Carter New and James Aaron Quick

Getting ready, preparing, and writing a grant proposal is no different than preparing for a marathon or any other athletic event --if you don't train for it, submitting an application can be a grueling event!

The husband-and-wife team who wrote Grantseeker's Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Finding Funding run a grant consultation company and provide an engaging and thorough breakdown of the grant application procedure. Included are training materials and exercises needed to improve your chances of being a "grant-winning champion."

The purpose of the book, the authors say, is to provide "a step-by-step guide for grant seekers explaining all aspects of the tasks at hand." They estimate that the actual process of writing takes up less than a fifth of your time, "much more goes before the writing that most people don't consider. That is why so many fail."

The authors, who have conducted grant workshops in 45 states, draw on their experience to provide a four-part breakdown of the grant-seeking procedure.

Part I describes how to begin the whole grantseeking process, how to design a project, find a funding source, and the best ways to get organized.

Part II is devoted to locating funding organizations. Each of these four chapters describes a different funding source: federal grant-givers, foundations, corporations, and state and local offices. There are helpful hints and tips, and appropriate contact information is provided.

Part III gives advice on how to put the final application together. An outline for a rough draft is discussed and ideas for expanding and beefing up that outline are described. The importance of following application guidelines such as keeping within page limitations, font size, and page layout are also stressed.

Part IV comes down to the nitty-gritty of writing the proposal itself: How to prepare biosketches, budgets, and cover letters. Proposal checklists are included in the last chapter to make sure you tackle your application logically and that you can see what needs to be completed as you go along.

While some of you may be convinced that academic research funding is nothing more than a charitable lottery, Quick and New make it clear throughout the four parts that grant-givers are businesses-- not charities. Grant-funding organizations are investors, and applicants who consider the grant-giver's point of view are more likely to succeed. Purse strings don't magically unravel whenever someone holds out an empty laboratory beaker!

To complement their grants expertise, Quick and New include a number of do-it-yourself worksheets in a floppy disk that accompanies each chapter in the guide. The files--Microsoft Word for Windows (version 6.0) documents--are simple templates or tables that match the particular exercise discussed, which can be printed out and used when you start applying.

There is a good contents section at the back of the book which lists the files by chapter for easy retrieval. The Project Profile Worksheet, for example, requires that you list your objectives and your needs such as equipment, material, people, and facilities, plus guestimates of how much each will cost. It is a good way to start planning the bare bones of a proposal.

Another great way to organize your project is to use the "timeline" idea--a graphical representation of the time frame of your proposed goals and objectives, an exercise all principle investigators should do even if there is no grant to write!

The authors finish up with a set of grant "rules" and four "keys to the kingdom" concepts:

  • Grant-seeking is a process, not an event--don't prepare a grant 2 days before it's due.

  • Attack problems, not symptoms--effective proposals address underlying problems.

  • Make the match--pick the best funding sources.

  • Remember the reader--make your proposal passionate, not boring!

  • A summary of different funding resources or perhaps a list of major funding organizations' Web sites or databases would have been useful. They do include proposal-writing guidelines and an alphabetical action verb list to help spice up your manuscript and keep it active (and not passive).

    Because the focus of the book isn't entirely on biomedical grants, a little patience may be required for those that want solutions to specific problems. Others who have read the book, including our office staff, gave it a five-star rating for its comprehensive and instructive approach.

    For graduate students, postdocs, and other researchers who complain that "we were never taught how to write a grant," Grantseeker's Toolkit will teach you the fundamental rules you need to know to compete for funds. You can't possibly win every academic race, but you can at least be primed and finely tuned, ready to give your colleagues a run for their (grant) money!