Journal Logo


Successful grant applications

Follow the 4 F's

Clark, Rebecca Culver PhD, RN; Carter, Kimberly Ferren PhD, RN, NEA-BC

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000552701.73372.b4
  • Free


NURSES ARE BEING called upon to shape the healthcare industry, and the value of nursing research and evidence-based practices has never been greater in improving patient outcomes.1 Limited budgets, time, and support have imposed barriers for nurses to address clinical questions through studies.2 Nurses from all departments and specialties have the potential to influence research funding with competitive grant applications.3

Grants provide resources for nursing projects and research, but it may be challenging to identify the right grantor to secure the necessary funding. Discussing grants can be stressful for nurses, and few have the required experience and expertise to write a successful grant application. Additionally, competition can be intense, with only outstanding applications granted funding. Knowing the components of a successful proposal can improve a project's chances of receiving funding. This article discusses the process of writing and developing grant proposals by focusing on four F's: fit, fabulous narrative, follow-through, and finish line details.


The first step in securing funding is defining the purpose of a project and developing specific objectives to accomplish. This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked. Grantors and institutions view grants as opportunities to further their respective missions and reject projects that are not relevant to their priorities. Successful grant applications rely on a good fit between the project goals and those of the funding organization (see Funding terminology).

A request for proposal (RFP) details the requirements of the funding source, including information about submission deadlines, proposal formatting, evaluation criteria, and processes. RFPs provide the details and structure needed to craft a proposal, and it takes some persistence and creativity to locate an RFP that fits the project.

Many organizations have research, development, and sponsored program offices that can help an applicant locate potential sources of funding for a project. Additionally, healthcare organizations may have access to grant databases to help researchers find funding opportunities. Several websites are available to identify potential grantors (see Fundraising resources).

Review the application deadline to ensure you have enough time to form a team and develop a proposal. The project's goals and objectives should be outlined in the RFP and align with those of both the employer and any potential funding agencies. For example, if a grant agency is interested in clinical research projects, an application for funding should detail a clinical research project. It would be inappropriate to pitch a clinical practice project not based on research. On the other hand, those interested in finding funding for an academic or clinical practice project should seek out agencies interested in funding those types of projects.

Take the time to determine what must be covered in the grant funding. Some grantors may not fund salaries, travel expenses, or equipment; others provide funds only after the entire project is completed. In that case, consider the logistics of implementing a project without advance funding.

Indirect funding can sometimes be requested as part of a grant submission. Indirect funding is allocated to an employer or healthcare organization to support general operational expenses, such as office space and utilities. Not all granting agencies offer indirect funding, and an organization may prefer to focus submissions on those that do. Consider the parameters of a grant and whether they meet the criteria established by the healthcare organization.

Review any eligibility requirements for a grant. Some grantors require researchers to be a member of a specific organization or meet certain educational requirements, such as having RN, MSN, or NP credentials. An organization may also be required to meet certain criteria, such as academic or healthcare accreditations.

If an employer or organization does not meet the criteria for a grant application, consider collaborating with partners whose practices more closely align with those of the grantor, such as a college or university faculty member who has the required memberships or credentials. Interdisciplinary teams can strengthen applications with additional perspectives and insights, allowing researchers to expand their resources as they develop a grant proposal and potentially making applications more competitive.

Content requirements7-11

Once researchers have found the best fit, they will be ready to write a proposal.

Fabulous narrative

Grant applications should include a compelling proposal that is feasible, well-written, and advances the mutual goals of the project and its grantors. It takes practice, teamwork, time, and energy to put together a successful application. Applications are typically a group effort, so partner with researchers who bring different skills and perspectives to the table. Granting organizations frequently look for professionals to review proposals as well, so becoming a reviewer offers valuable insight into successful applications.

There is no room for creativity when it comes to formatting, so it is best to follow the grantor specifications strictly. Word or character limits determine how much information to include in each section of the grant. Cite the appropriate sources and include a properly formatted reference list (see Content requirements).

If no referencing format has been specified, choose a style that best fits the proposal's needs. For example, if the word limit feels tight, the manual of style from the American Medical Association, which numbers references, may be a better option than the American Psychological Association style guide, which takes up more space with parenthetical citations.4,5 Remain compliant with the preferred font and margins, as well as the page, word, and character limits. Without these, an application can be rejected before it is ever read.

Reviewers may not be familiar with the content of a project. In fact, they may not be healthcare professionals at all, so develop a narrative with this in mind. Be specific, detailed, and complete. Proposals should be easy to read. Use strategically placed bold, italicized, bulleted, or underlined text to communicate important points.


Communication with program directors at funding agencies is vital. They can provide valuable assistance regarding the criteria for a grant and answer questions about the RFP. Typically, they are eager to discuss how an idea fits with the grantor's goals.

Proofread the work and share it with others who have no knowledge about the subject to assess the clarity of the writing and presentation. Be open to their feedback. It is not always necessary to agree with outside perspectives, but these may offer important insights. The ultimate responsibility for decisions regarding the content, format, and overall grant, however, falls on the primary authors and researchers. Before submitting, double-check the proposal compared with the requirements outlined in the RFP.

Similarly, deadlines are critical. Researchers should work backward from an earlier deadline to allow for a safety net to address any obstacles and set dates for key points in the project, including:

  • developing and validating reports
  • revising and updating staff education materials
  • training staff to implement interventions and collect data
  • implementing interventions and monitoring data
  • conducting data analysis
  • providing feedback and training for compliance with the study design
  • completing abstracts and submitting manuscripts.

Finish-line details

After a potential grantor completes the review process, the researchers will be notified regardless of the decision. Grantors may request a phone call to clarify a point or renegotiate the budget. Do not accept the offered funds if they are not realistic for the success of the project, and be ready to negotiate any budget flexibility.

Successful grant writing involves persistence and patience. If the outcome of a funding review is negative, review any feedback and determine whether to resubmit or try with a different grantor. Even for the most experienced grant writers, this process typically requires two or more submissions to secure funding.

If funding is granted, on the other hand, notify any coauthors, partners, administrators, and the research office. Researchers can work with their facility's sponsored programs office to help with any official agreements and receipt of documents.

Focus on the goals and objectives of the proposal, implement the grant as designed, and utilize a timeline and project plan to stay on track. Any challenges and changes should be addressed and negotiated with the grant contacts. The proposed goals and objectives will guide the implementation of the project or study. Any required reports should be completed in a timely manner, and any findings should be disseminated appropriately. In reports to the granting agency, emphasize objective-focused achievements. Delays in the proposed timeline should be discussed with the grantor, with explanations included in the reports.

Open and honest communication builds bridges with grantors, potentially leading to future funding. Clear communication also serves as a great reference for other funding agencies.

The future of funding

Grant funding can help support the impact of nursing on the healthcare industry. The application process may be difficult, daunting, and time-consuming, but nurses can secure funding for research by identifying sources and writing compelling applications. These funds can be used to innovate and advance the global healthcare industry.

Funding terminology6

Goals are broad statements regarding what will be achieved by a project. For example, “The goal of this study is to increase the pneumococcal immunization rates of ambulatory patients.”

Objectives are specific, measurable, and clearly stated outcomes for the project. Follow SMART criteria (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) to develop strong objectives. Objectives can detail process or outcome measures. While both are important, a grant application must include outcome measures for the evaluation process.

Processes reflect an action that will be taken. For example, “By the end of the first 6 months, 80% of patients visiting the unit will view a 3-minute educational video about the importance of the pneumococcal immunization.”

Outcomes describe something that will be accomplished. For example, “50% of eligible patients who visit the unit between January 2019 and July 2019 will receive the pneumococcal immunization.”

Fundraising resources


1. Institute of Medicine. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011.
2. Scala E, Price C, Day J. An integrative review of engaging clinical nurses in nursing research. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2016;48(4):423–430.
3. Lindquist R, Hadidi N. Developing grant writing skills to translate practice dreams into reality. AACN Adv Crit Care. 2013;24(2):177–185.
4. JAMA and Archives Journals. AMA Manual of Style. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007.
5. American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2009.
6. Doran GT. There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. Manag Rev. 1981;70(11):35–36.
7. Marshall LS. Research commentary: Grant writing: part II grant application/proposal components. J Radiol Nurs. 2013;32(1):1546–1550.
8. The Writing Center: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Grant proposals (or give me the money!). 2018.
    9. Bliss DZ. Letters of support for a research grant proposal. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2010;37(4):358–359.
    10. American Nurses Credentialing Center. How to display your credentials. 2013.
      11. University of Michigan Research and Sponsored Projects. Pilot grant (seed grant).

        funding; grantors; grants; research

        Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved