Good for you!
Let me help you out!
In my four-and-a-bit years as a grant wrangler, I’ve applied to a bewildering array of Canadian and international government and charitable funding agencies. Every organisation has their own system (some even have different systems for different grant mechanisms), each with its strengths and weaknesses – I won’t name names, but anyone in the same business as me will have their own favourite and least favourite systems!
For your viewing and/or schadenfreude-related pleasure, I’ve therefore put together a helpful* list of good, bad, and “meh” practices for each of the major components of a grant submission. Please add your own in the comments!
(NB I originally tried to to this by making an elegantly formatted table and uploading it via Flickr, but the image quality wasn’t good enough. Still available here if anyone’s interested, or I can email you the PDF if you’re really interested!).
Bad: Paper. I mean, really. (Last time encountered: 2010, FFS);
CDs are almost as bad (not encountered since 2008, thankfully).
Meh: Email attachments. PDFs almost acceptable; anything else, not so much.
Best: Online only.
CONTACT INFO (PI, co-applicant, suggested / excluded reviewer etc)
Bad: Failure to recognise phone number if input in wrong format (e.g. (555) 555 5555 instead of 555-555-5555 – the horror!);
Failure to recognise email address if a space accidentally got typed after it (happened to me yesterday, resulting in an unspecified “section incomplete” error that took 20 minutes to identify and fix);
Fax number as required field, especially for excluded reviewers (often not listed on PIs’ websites: no possible way to ask them for it!).
Best: Auto-populates upon pasting in the person’s email address / system login name / agency PIN.
Bad: Uses a completely unique format;
Requires non-standard extras, e.g. grant # for each current & submitted grant, or the impact factor / reason for choice of journal / detailed description of applicant’s role for every paper.
Meh: Uses a standard format, e.g. NIH Biosketch style.
Best: (If Canadian): uses Common CV (online system that lets you enter all CV info in a standard format and will then generate the correctly formatted CV for any member organisation);
(If foreign): Any format acceptable, as long as it includes [reasonable list of normal CV features].
DETAILS & ABSTRACTS OF OTHER CURRENT AND SUBMITTED GRANTS (to assess overlap with current proposal)
Bad: Details for each grant must be completed individually via an online form;
Every abstract has to be attached separately.
Meh: Full, detailed list required, but can be done in Word and attached as a single PDF;
Not required unless there actually is an overlap to declare;
Not required unless funded.
Best: Just don’t ask for it. Several major funding agencies get by just fine without it, you know.
Bad: Form only shows one year / one line item at a time;
Separate justification text required for each line item / category of items.
Best: Form shows all line items for all years, allowing applicant to easily check against an Excel spreadsheet;
Line item and annual totals calculated and displayed as you go;
Budget justification attached as single PDF.
PROPOSAL / OTHER LARGE TEXT SECTIONS
Bad: Entered into text box, meaning that it has to be carefully and repeatedly checked and re-checked for formatting, non-standard characters, and to make sure headers aren’t separated from associated text etc. (Last encountered: today).
Meh: There is no middle ground. Text box EVIL, attachment AWESOME.
Best: Attached as PDF.
Bad: Anything involving envelopes and stamps / Fed-Ex accounts.
Meh: Online after applicant submits the grant, forcing local office of research facilitation to impose crazily early internal deadlines but then still resulting in a mad crazy deadline panic that is out of applicants’ hands due to volume of applications.
Best: Applicant uploads scanned signed form to online application in their own time and is then solely responsible for submitting by the one and only grant deadline.
APPLICATION VALIDATION / PREVIEW
Bad: No validation check or preview.
Meh: Omissions / mistakes trigger a warning, but no details are given.
Best: Clear description of what’s missing / wrong and how to fix it.
FINAL APPLICATION FILE (generated by system for applicants’ records; usually emailed to co-applicants by the main PI or their wrangler)
Bad: Not a PDF;
Incomplete – e.g. doesn’t include figures or proposal (last encountered: last month);
Fugly thing with no spaces between sections, so sections start in the middle of a page (ditto).
Meh: Complete, but boring stuff up front, e.g. CVs, list of other current and submitted grants etc. Yes, I have seen this kind of thing placed before the grant’s abstract, proposal, and budget;
No table of contents or hyperlinks to specific sections.
Best: Each section starts on a new page;
Index available with hyperlinks to each section and attachment;
Most important info up front (applicants, review panels, abstract, proposal, references, figures, budget, THEN the boring stuff)
*well, I found it helpful anyway. I needed a good venting session and online grant submission forms are an easy target.