The 5 Reasons Your Grants Aren’t Getting Funded

March 3, 2019

Competition for NIH grant funding can be ruthless. When it comes to research project grants (RPGs) or RO1-equivalent funding, an investigator either sinks or swims… and if you sink, the impact can be devastating. According to the NIH, in 2017 the success rate for RPGs 18.7% and the average size of RPGs was $499,421.00. For competing R01-equivalent applications, the average size was $482,395 and the award-rate was 19.3%.

We’ve been involved with enough grant applications to know the major reasons investigators miss the mark. Here we present five of the reasons your grants are probably getting tossed to the side.

1. Your idea was great… your research methods weren’t.

Often, we as researchers or clinicians, are so focused on ensuring our research leads to outcomes that have a great impact on humanity that we assume funding is guaranteed. Unfortunately, if you forget to focus on sound scientific methodology your reviewer won’t need to read very much of your grant to make a judgment call. It is highly unlikely you will be scored—and much less likely that you’ll receive funding. It is always important that you ensure that you limit bias, accurately measure variables, conduct sample size calculations to increase statistically significant results, and identify the best strategy for participant recruitment and allocation. Also, don’t forget that when you share your results (should you get the funding you seek), you must ensure your protocol is detailed enough that it can be reproduced—don’t think the reviewers won’t notice a spotty methods section.

2. You ignored the instructions of the application and decided to “wing it”.

If a toddler can follow instructions (sometimes?), you can as well. Nothing aggravates a reviewer like searching high-and-low to score selected review criteria… only to be unable to locate it. In fact, a wise person might bold or underline key words to POINT the reviewer to the location of all the information they need. Ignore the instructions and you will frustrate the reviewer. Frustrate the reviewer and you will see your score drop dramatically.

3. Your research strategy was compelling and scientifically complete; your purpose was not.

You have great methods, and everything was complete and thorough in your application—but you sold nothing to the funding organization that made them see a reason to throw a bucket of money at you.

For example, if you send an R01 to the NIH and you want to know the mechanism that underlies SOME pathway of disease (any pathway, you pick one for this hypothetical exercise), but you never get the human health impact the NIH grants are looking for, you won’t be funded. I’d bet the house on it.

Let us pretend for a moment you want to know the mechanism of action for the poxvirus restriction factors SAMD9 and SAMD9L in humans because, well, you love learning about these viruses and you are a Virologist. SAMD9 restricts the host response. The question the NIH reviewer would have is… SO WHAT?

Why is this helpful? What is the human impact? Well, you could take it multiple ways…  I immediately think of bioterrorism. Make a compelling argument for this and even I want to make sure you get funding.

4. You were too ambitious—and not in the good way.

Often investigators, even those with prior funding, forget they are human and that the NIH review panel is quite aware of what can be done in a 5-year span. While it is laudable to plan to test your hypothesis using 7 specific aims and 4 sample populations, it is also laughable. By over-promising your output and showing your inability to realistically assess the amount of time it takes to perform your studies you showcase your inability to budget your time—and that is why the funding agency won’t be sponsoring your budget.

5. The typos and formatting errors stole the spotlight.

Don’t think that your grant application will ever be anything more than an application if you have not properly given thought to formatting, style and grammar, and ensuring structure and flow of your application lead to the conclusion you wanted for the outcome you desire (aka “WE NEED TO PAY FOR THIS STUDY!”). It is understandable you may not know how to do these things as well as you do the laboratory experiments your grant entails—but there are people who do these things each day. Hire a medical writer who has done this before, knows grammar and science, and (believe it or not) will have inside-track knowledge on the application process that could enhance your odds. Seriously, don’t waste your time and effort (and miss out on a funding cycle) while trying to find all your spliced commas—just hire someone who knows what they are doing.


Let’s be honest, there are many reasons grants don’t get funded… and many of these reasons are not because the research or premise is inadequate—the actual writing and application is holding good research back from seeing the light of day. That is where we come in.

We at Wilson Carroll Research Services, LLC (WCRS) have the same goals you do—we want to get your grant funded, your manuscript published, and your career soaring. Our mission is to ensure that great science never be held back by poor writing or avoidable mistakes. Let us help you get your grant proposal ready for review.

Contact us today for a free quote or to discuss how we can work together to further your research goals.