Ticking Timebomb

Time! There’s never enough but there are ways to avoid that sickening feeling as an application deadline approaches…

We all know how the funding application process usually ends up going something like this:

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Allowing such a short period of time is not fun for anyone and it is one of the most common problems we encounter whilst providing application support.

Our funding success rate (around 1 in 3) is achieved through understanding that there is a lot more to completing an application than the words within the final document. Read on to discover our suggested timeline and how to ensure that sleep doesn’t have to be optional when applying for funding.

12-18 months from a deadline

I know what you’re thinking…really, 18 months?! Are you mad?! However, planning this far ahead is the only reliable way to get everything in place in time.

We aren’t saying that the application needs to be written a year before but having a plan on what and where you are applying is vital. The main aspects to focus on are:

Identifying the opportunity

Funding bodies will release programmes of work prior to calls being opened. Look up these documents and plan your strategy – do you need a few small pots of money in the next couple of years, then go for a big project later? Or do you have a ground-breaking idea which will no longer be ground-breaking if it is sat on whilst you complete incremental research?


The eligibility of the PI/research team is a primary hurdle which must be cleared before embarking on the roller coaster ride of an application. The variety of funding opportunities available means that each opportunity will be accompanied by different guidance/criteria. Even within the same research councils, eligibility criteria can differ between two separate funding opportunities.

Make Contact

Make contact with your Support Office and School. Let them know you are considering applying for a funding proposal. You’ll often be able to access additional support.

Application numbers may be restricted by your department/institution or by the funding body. Certain funders place restrictions on institutions depending on the quality of funding applications they receive – so internal peer review and quality checks are often a prerequisite.

It is essential to find any restrictions out before embarking on the detail of the proposal.

6-12 months from a deadline

This is the point where the hard work really begins. Fully costing budgets and crafting the detail of the application takes time and multiple iterations. You need to build in enough time to get sick of the application, walk away and then come back!


Many Project Support Offices will compile a budget in conjunction with you. For your part it is essential to identify all budget needs for collaborators and contributors, and also ensure that you have remembered to allow for equipment and also travel – particularly for dissemination events such as conferences.

Start Writing

Begin your writing process by checking the guidance and start your document in the required page layout style to begin with. This will provide a much more accurate idea of layout options and space restrictions, saving lots of time later.

It is a common mistake to try and squeeze in as many words as possible onto the application document leading to an unreadable block of test.  Remember the old advertising saying – “the white space sells the product”

Craft the Application

Never set out to write your application. Effective applications must be built, with the detail of arguments added in throughout. Tell the reviewer why you and your research is important.

0-3 months from a deadline

At this stage you want to have a strong draft completed. Peer review at this stage is essential-the more people who read your proposal the better, find out your weaknesses before submission, not after!

Supporting Documents

These documents are a major contributing factor to the bid submission delays and last minute panic! Quite often, letters of support come from external organisations or people and can take time to come back. This is compounded if there is missing or incorrect information that needs to be changed.

Peer Review

This step is often overlooked, but can be a requirement of your School or Research Support Office to be able to submit.

The more your bid is questioned and challenged prior to submission, the stronger it can be made. It’s better to be questioned before you submit, so there is time to response to criticisms or perceived weaknesses.

Initial Upload

In the last minute rush, it is easy to overlook this step. However, it is common for a funder’s server to be overloaded close to the deadline. Uploading an almost complete application at least 48 hours before the close of the call ensures that your hard work isn’t wasted and you aren’t left crying in the corner.

Final Checks

Don’t forget the final checks! For example, do the objectives written months previously on an application form match those on the Je-S form?

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