Tips for Grant Writing Success

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Letter of Inquiry (LOI) Writing Tips | Proposal Writing Tips | The Review Process
Fluxx Instructional Video | Sample LOIs | Sample Proposals | Other Resources


Register now for our Grant Writing Webinar
June 26 at 2:00pm ET

RSF program staff will host a webinar on how to apply for foundation grants.



Dissertation Research Grants Application Guidelines


Pipeline, Trustee, and Presidential Grants Application Guidelines

From the 2020 ASA Conference: What Investigators Should Know about Grant-seeking from Private Foundations


Letter of Inquiry (LOI) Writing Tips

Applicants should also see Application Requirements for additional information on what to include in an LOI. When LOIs are sent to external reviewers, we ask reviewers to simply indicate whether or not they think we should invite a full proposal for the project as described in the LOI, and to provide some substantiating comments for their recommendation. Reviewer comments (however brief) are provided to applicants.

  • LOIs are only 4 pages long – treat it as a mini-proposal and use all 4 pages in describing your project.
  • Be very clear about the question(s) to be addressed and focus the project on a small number of key research questions or hypotheses.
  • LOIs should be balanced; no more than 1.5 pages should be devoted to outlining the problem, stating the questions of interest, and reviewing the literature.
  • The bulk of the LOI (50-75%) should be devoted to explaining how and why the data and methods will help applicants answer the questions of interest – including data and design limitations – this is what reviewers really need to see to help them understand the project.
  • No more than a short paragraph should be devoted to the budget or the qualifications of the investigators.
  • Other issues to consider:
    • RSF uses interdisciplinary reviewers – be aware of what other disciplines have to say about your topic or research questions.
    • One LOI should address one project/experiment – including multiple projects or experiments in one LOI is usually a mistake.
    • RSF seldom funds developmental work (literature reviews, survey development, etc.) through its regular program grants. See our Pipeline Grants Competition for eligibility and applications.
    • Preliminary or pilot findings should be included, if available. Likewise, power calculations, if relevant.
    • Pre-registering your study rationale, hypotheses, research design and analytic strategy before beginning the study is sometimes required.

Click here to view sample LOI #1
Click here to view sample LOI #2
Click here to view sample LOI #3
Click here to view sample LOI #4

Preview the full application here

Proposal Writing Tips

Applicants should also see Application Requirements for additional information on what to include in a proposal. In its proposal review process, RSF asks reviewers to make a recommendation on each proposal and support their recommendation by answering five specific questions. These five questions are listed below with a short description of how applicants should think about them.

  1. Does the project address an important and compelling question or set of questions? Is the question(s) framed appropriately in terms of prior theory and empirical work?
    Applicants should (1) make very clear their main question(s)/hypothesis(es), (2) indicate the importance of those questions, and (3) explain their relevance to RSF interests. RSF is typically looking for projects and questions that are most closely aligned with its funding priorities and have significant potential for contributing to the field. Applicants should also be aware of theory and empirical work in other disciplines as well as their own.
  2. Is the research design, the data and the proposed methodology appropriate to address the questions raised?
    Investigators should spend the bulk of their application indicating how and why their data and methods will allow them to answer the questions they are attempting to answer. Be as detailed as possible – it is not unusual for applicants to not provide sufficient detail for the reviewers to really understand the project. Why are the data relevant to the questions being posed and why are they better than other data? What measures are being used and are they adequate? What is the analytic strategy? Does the project have sufficient power? Investigators should also keep one key point in mind: do not use causal language if you do not have a causal research design.
  3. Do the qualifications of the investigator(s) suggest the capacity to carry out the project? Is additional expertise required?
    Do the principal investigators bring to the project the expertise needed to carry out the project in terms of topic area, data, and methods being proposed? How do the investigators propose to deal with any perceived lack of expertise? In some cases, RSF has required additional expertise as a condition of funding.
  4. What is the likely contribution of this project?
    Investigators should be clear about what they think their project will contribute. What will we know that we don’t already know? Or how will the project help resolve current differences in understanding? Is the contribution a small, but significant step? Or will it have significant payoff in moving the field forward?
  5. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for the investigators to consider (theory, data, methods) that could potentially improve the project?
    Reviewers are asked for any additional suggestions that they feel could improve the project or that the PI(s) should consider in moving forward. Reviewers will often add additional thoughts that they feel have not received sufficient attention in the current proposal or that they think the investigator(s) should give more serious attention.

In addition to the questions described above, applicants should consider the following issues as part of their proposal:

  • Providing a detailed and feasible timeline with project tasks serves as a guideline for how the project will unfold and whether the project is meeting its goals.
  • If data gathering activities are being proposed, the survey or other data collection instruments (drafts are acceptable) must be included as part of the proposal.

Click here to view sample proposal #1
Click here to view sample proposal #2
Click here to view sample proposal #3
Click here to view sample proposal #4

Fluxx Instructional Video

The Review Process at RSF

  1. At least 3 members of the RSF program staff read every LOI submitted – we are primarily looking for fit with the foundation, clarity in presentation, and whether the data and methods are described in sufficient detail.
  2. LOIs that do not pass the internal screen are declined without comment; LOIs that pass the internal screen are sent out for external review – a minimum of 3 reviewers read every LOI.
  3. Based on the recommendations of these external reviewers, RSF program staff decide which projects to invite for full proposal.
  4. When invited proposals are received, they are sent to the same reviewers who reviewed the LOI (when possible), plus up to 2 additional external reviewers.
  5. When the external review process is complete, all materials are provided to standing Advisory Committees. Advisory committee members are external to the Foundation and recruited specifically for their expertise in each of the Foundation’s program area. Advisory committees decide which proposals are moved forward to RSF Board for funding consideration, which proposals are invited to resubmit, and which proposals are declined.
  6. For projects with budgets greater than $75,000 (Trustee Grants), the RSF Board serves as final authority – although the vast majority of proposals that reach the Board are approved for funding, the Board may reject a proposal, request or offer a revision, ask for further clarification, or approve with conditions. For projects with budgets of up to $75,000 (Presidential Grants), the RSF President serves as final authority.


Learn more about Tips for Grant Writing Success


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