Common mistakes made

Demonstrating impact

Impact is a vague term, but the major funders define it in broadly the same way. Essentially, they want to know what the consequence of your work is, who will benefit from it in the long term, and what can be done to increase the chances of your research reaching these people. However, they will often use slightly different terminology, which can make things confusing.

Describing impact

When describing impact, you should always include a clear statement of the significance of the project. Explain how it will transform thinking, policy or treatments and ultimately the lives of people with asthma. You need to make this understandable to the whole review panel. One of the commonest mistakes applicants make when describing impact is that they speak to specialists only. If the entire panel can’t understand why your research is important and what it could achieve, they are not likely to fund it.

Funders acknowledge that not all research programmes will achieve impact. Basic science won’t achieve impact during in the short term, but funders expect applicants to have thought through the pathway to impact, or how the research will build capacity in that area. Conversely for those research projects which would be expected to achieve impact, funders want to see these impacts clearly stated and specific strategies for how these impacts will reach beneficiaries.

Impacts may be academic, policy-based, or economic and societal. Whichever you propose, it is important to think about the pathway to achieving these impacts.

For specific funders

Both the NIHR and MRC have documents on their website about describing impact. We suggest that you consult these if you are applying to these funders. MRC have said they are happy to fund knowledge expansion within a field but it is important to think about next steps. They want to know how your findings will be taken forward and who might do it.

The Wellcome Trust also said that they were happy to fund knowledge expansion within a single or small set of fields. They just want you to set this out this out methodically and think widely and long term. In short, both Wellcome and MRC want to see that you have thought carefully and strategically about impact.

Finances

Finances are examined in detail by both the funding organisation/funder and the review panel. It is therefore vital that you budget appropriately for your project. If there is no funding cap listed for an award, contact the funding office to find out whether there is an ‘unwritten limit’ for that particular funding round.

Costing

The funding organisation/funder will look to see that applications are keenly costed; evidence of over-costing will often lead to applications being marked down. However, this is not to say that the panel is looking for the cheapest proposals. Don’t be tempted to under-cost your proposal as it is extremely difficult to get supplementary funding once a grant has been awarded. Ask for what you need to deliver the science, and justify each cost rather than just listing it.

Value for money

What panel is looking for is ‘value for money’ and this is defined as an appropriate budget and team to carry out the proposed programme of work. When assembling a team, think carefully about who is there, what they are contributing, and how much time they are spending on it. It is unrealistic to expect a very senior colleague to spend 50% of their time supporting your work; equally if they are contributing only a small number of hours, ask yourself if they are adding meaningful value to your project or whether you have included them just for their name.

An additional way of assessing value for money is to look at the scientific and/or policy advances that you are proposing will be achieved by this work and asking if these are sufficient to justify the cost of the programme.

In summary, don’t ask for too much or too little. Both make it look like you have not thought your project through.

Read our guidance on what to do before starting your application