Common research application pitfalls

Last updated: 22 Jun 2023, 13:20

The Irish Research Council supports a great range of research projects, but the application process is highly competitive. Only those research projects which demonstrate a well-conceived scope of analysis and a high degree of potential are likely to be considered for funding, and even if your project is of that calibre, a weak application can fatally undermine it. Let’s look at five common mistakes that researchers make when applying for funding.

Finger pressing a blue 'apply' key on a keyboard.

Badly designed projects

A project design that lacks coherence, a defined objective and clarity will overshadow any overarching intellectual merits that it might have. This might mean an insufficient or excessive level of detail and rationale, with the feasibility of each aim not clearly established. Other examples of mistakes might be a lack of discussion of alternative models and methods. Some, though not all, projects may benefit from considering how they relate to research done in parallel or connected fields, and you may want to show that you have done this thinking.

Incorrect infrastructure

You may have a brilliant research proposal but without the necessary backup, it’s doomed to failure. The key resource is the institution that you are proposing to align yourself to for the purposes of your research. Does this institution have the resources and expertise you will need to conduct your research in the best possible way and to meet the requirements of your design and methodology? Make sure the institution is an appropriate partner for your project and don’t just choose one that you are comfortable with or is most likely to agree to work with you.

Lack of focus

While the breadth of your research can be extensive, the scope still needs to be defined and workable within realistic resources and timeframes. Do you really know what direction your research will go in and do you have well-articulated objectives? Many research proposals fail because the objectives are vague or superficial and do not bear a concrete relevance to how your research will be conducted and how funding will be justified.

Does it really matter?

It’s important that your research matters and you can display why it is worthy of funding. Is it new, exciting and vibrant, will it have an impact that matters, or will it add significantly to the field? Can you provide a compelling story for why this is the case? Applications can fail because the researcher doesn’t have a good understanding of what other research projects may already be underway in their chosen field, and can’t demonstrate how their research fills a discernible gap in that field.

Engage with every question on the form

Don’t forget to complete every field of the application. This may sound obvious, but remember to give an answer, even if very briefly, even to questions that do not seem directly relevant to your project. By thinking about your answer, you may realise that the question is more relevant than you would have originally thought.

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