Before you begin writing a grant application, you need an idea. This step of the grant lifecycle involves collecting ideas based on your interests and goals and translating those ideas into a focused project or program that can be developed into a fundable proposal. The following actions can help you generate ideas that fit your career goals and sponsor expectations.

Consider your Interests and Strengths

While successful research proposals must fit the missions of the funding agencies to which you intend to apply, any research project you pursue should be relevant to your interests and expertise. A successful research program or project will draw upon your own research experience, your knowledge of the field, and your career goals.

Furthermore, research can be about you.  An idea for a research topic can frequently stem from your own personal experiences or threads that run through your professional life.  Don’t discount your own experiences or flashes of inspiration.

Position Yourself for Success

Activities that build and strengthen your reputation in your field can also lead to opportunities that generate great ideas.

  • Publish
  • Raise your profile as a scholar
    • Present at conferences
    • Join professional societies
    • Review papers
    • Sit on panels and advisory councils
    • Volunteer to serve as a reviewer for a funding agency
  • Seek and build partnerships, both in your discipline and with scholars in other fields.
  • Network: talk to your colleagues and contact national/international figures in your area of interest
  • Lay the groundwork: sponsors want to see preliminary data and/or evidence to support larger projects. Consider applying for MSU Texas intramural grants to fund preliminary data collection.
  • Start early: plan ahead, especially if the grant program you wish to apply for has annual or rolling deadlines. Communicate with OSPR early and often to receive support, guidance, and consultation at all stages of the proposal process.

Review Existing Research

Reviewing the literature and studying “old” research can spark new ideas. It is important to critically evaluate and interpret the existing literature in your field, as well as currently funded projects. Staying informed and up-to-date on the types of research currently being done (and funded) in your areas of interest will allow you to generate ideas that will contribute in a new way, such as filling in gaps in understanding left by previous research or pursuing an aspect of your field that hasn't been researched before.

Evaluate Your Idea’s Potential for Success

Once you have identified a topic that looks feasible and are familiar with the literature, distinguish what makes your idea unique. Determine what the difference is going to be between your work and others.

When evaluating your idea, you should also consider the following questions:

  • Is the subject timely?
  • Will the research lead to a well-defined set of results?
  • Does the research demonstrate a high level of creativity?
  • Will you enjoy researching this topic? (Remember that you most likely will be spending the next few years working on it)

Remember your idea should also be one that aligns with the missions and purpose of MSU and the sponsor(s) you intend to approach for funding.

Write a Concept Paper

A concept paper can help you transform a good idea into a focused, high-quality proposal.

Writing a concept paper can be a little intimidating when you first begin the process. A concept paper provides a clear outline of your research or scholarly project. It will provide a foundation to guide discussions with potential partners or co-investigators, Office of Sponsored Programs and Research (OSPR) staff, and funding agency program officers. A concept paper can also provide a head start on crafting a full proposal.

Writing and sharing a brief concept paper is an efficient and effective way to obtain quick feedback on your project’s strengths and weaknesses from a sponsor. In many cases, program officers or other sponsor representatives will respond to concept paper almost immediately. In contrast, if you submit a full application package (often 50+ pages of documents that can take months to complete), you will typically wait several months for reviewer comments.

Please download the Concept Paper Template document to learn how to write a successful concept paper.

Seek Input & Feedback

Critical feedback is essential, even if you are only in the idea generation stage. Discuss your ideas with your department chair, dean, and colleagues—both at MSU Texas and at other institutions—and with OSPR staff. These discussions can help identify gaps in your research plan and provide you with fresh perspectives on your ideas.

Feedback is essential at every stage of the process. Even when your idea and even your proposal is fully developed, ask your colleagues to read it and help you refine it further so you can submit the strongest proposal possible.

OSPR can also offer advice and resources to support you as you generate and refine ideas and prepare to develop a proposal. If you would like to discuss your ideas with OSPR, please call or email at any time.