Research Funding 101: Finding and Obtaining Grants

Expert insight on funding sources and grant writing

When nurses pursue research studies they spend a lot of time pondering the question they want to answer or the problem they want to solve, but they might not think about one critical component to the success of their project – funding.

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“Nurses need to consider funding because research can be expensive, and often times the operating budget within a hospital unit (or the nursing department) cannot afford to pick up that bill,” says Nancy M. Albert, PhD, CCNS, CHFN, CCRN, NE-BC, FAHA, FCCM, FHFSA, FAAN, ACNO of Nursing Research and Innovation at Cleveland Clinic. “Outside funding makes it affordable to conduct research without putting undue burden on an operating center and also on individual nurse investigators who are ready to conduct their research.”

Applying for funds offers another advantage. Grants have very specific requirements, so completing the required paperwork helps nurses attend to details. “Application requirement details help investigators think about different nuances related to the project, which can make the project stronger,” says Dr. Albert.

The research funding landscape may be overwhelming to novice nurse researchers. To shine light on the process of obtaining financial support, Dr. Albert offers advice on the main types of funding, how to find money for research and what to consider when writing a grant.

Public vs. private funding

The two main types of research funding are public and private. “Public grant funding comes from federal or state governments,” says Dr. Albert. “Money is typically set aside because there is a specific problem or issue that the government wants rigorous research information on. For example, they may be looking for evidence on the effects of novel interventions.” Most states offer funding for projects related to victims of domestic violence who come to the emergency department. The federal government often funds symptom management in chronic conditions.

There are many different sources for public funding. Dr. Albert cites three granting bodies in the fields of healthcare and nursing: the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

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“Federal and state funds are broad, but there are specific themes,” says Dr. Albert. “Just like other types of funding, they are looking to fill the gap to improve knowledge in specific areas. So you have to look for a grant that matches your research theme and/or patient population.”

Private funding may be available in small and large amounts through many funding mechanisms offered by organizations, foundations and even hospitals. Cleveland Clinic’s Zielony Nursing Institute awards small grants to nurse researchers (up to eight per year). Some private funders for healthcare research include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sigma Theta Tau and the American Nurses Foundation.

Searching for funding sources

One of the best places to look for funding is through national nursing organizations. Applicants are typically members of the organization. For example, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses , Midwest, Eastern, Southern and Western Nursing Research Societies and the Society of Critical Care Medicine offer grants to nurses working in critical care and varied environments.

Hospitals may provide a list of funding sources to clinical nurses. Cleveland Clinic’s Nursing Research Center intranet website includes a table with the names of nursing organizations that offer grants. The development office regularly distributes a list of grant funding opportunities.

“The other avenue to get a grant is through corporate partners in your field,” suggests Dr. Albert. “Companies may be willing to fund a nurse investigator if the topic aligns with their corporate work. Also, most companies have an application for research funding on their website so that nurses can submit unsolicited grant requests. The funding amount may be small or large, based on the rationale for funding.” For instance, if you’re working on a study related to sleep apnea in patients with hypertension, a sleep apnea device company may help fund your project.

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Following the rules of grant writing

Before you begin writing a grant proposal, there’s one critical question to ask: Does your idea fill a gap or fit in with the request for funding? “Think like the organization who may fund the research project,” says Dr. Albert. “They want to know they’re picking the right person/team who will use their grant funds wisely. What are you doing to help the funding agency reach their goals?”

If your research project aligns with the goals of the grant, then keep in mind these tips during the grant writing process:

  • Put together a collaborative team. Your team may involve a statistician, clinicians from other disciplines and a knowledgeable research scientist, especially if you are new to research. “Multidisciplinary collaborators will make your study more appealing to organizations when they read your grant and make for a stronger proposal,” says Dr. Albert.
  • Keep it simple. “Simplicity in writing is better than being complex. People who are not steeped in your field or patient population need to understand what they are reading,” says Dr. Albert. “Pare down excess, indirect details, and stay focused on the intervention or other critical aspects of the science.”
  • Contact program officers. “For federal grants, connect with the program officer assigned to the grant by telephone,” says Dr. Albert. “It’s their job to assist researchers and scientists. By learning what they are looking for in a grant, you have a better chance of matching their goals for the grant.”
  • Spend time on the abstract. “When reviewers review your proposal, the abstract is the first thing they read,” says Dr. Albert. “If it’s poorly written in content or English language, if the sections (aims, methods, analysis plan, etc.) do not match or there is no continuity in thought, reviewers may develop a poor first impression that can affect overall scoring.”
  • Clearly express your aims and outcomes. “You should be very precise about your specific aims and clearly word your outcomes so funding reviewers can understand them,” says Dr. Albert.
  • Carefully select your sources. Always use primary rather than secondary sources (references). Use recent references, usually within the past five years unless there’s a classic reference that must be cited.
  • Ask colleagues or hospital-based grant officers to review your work before submission. Have knowledgeable individuals (more than one) review the grant proposal. Reviewers should not be directly involved in the study. Their role is to read the proposal with an unbiased eye for inconsistencies, grammar, methodological issues and omissions. The best reviewers will provide clear, concise commentary and suggest edits.
  • Rewrite your proposal. “The rule of thumb with grant writing is rewrite, rewrite, rewrite,” says Dr. Albert. “It’s very unlikely the first version – or even the second or third – will be the final version. It usually takes multiple rewrites.”

Writing research proposals can be time-consuming, and your research study may be in jeopardy of being conducted without financial support. “If you find a good match with a grant opportunity, take time to write a proposal with clear aims/hypotheses and be hopeful of receiving funding. If you fail, try, try again!” concludes Dr. Albert.