“It’s only an Outline…”
Two stage application processes for research grants are becoming increasingly common. As the resources available for distribution become more limited yet the pressure for academics to secure external funding for their research increases, the competition for each and every grant becomes more fierce.
To manage this demand, funders are implementing Outline Applications. These are shorter applications that, generally, request details such as the research question and project idea, the experience of those who are to lead and deliver the project and the costs involved of doing so. The purpose is to assess how your proposal fits with their priorities and the feasibility of the project. If they like the proposal, they will invite you to submit a Full Application with more detail. This of course makes the process easier for them; they still receive hundreds of applications but these are a couple of pages long rather than the weighty documents usually required by funders. They can sift ideas more easily, find those that they like and then request the detail they need to make fully informed decisions in order to distribute the money.
However, there seems to be a troubling misunderstanding of the purpose of Outline Applications within our academic community; outline applications are not there to make life easier for you. We hear “It’s only an Outline” all too often. Outline applications shouldn’t be rushed in the hope that you’ve done enough to get through to the Full Application stage, which will of course get your full attention. In fact, Outline Applications mean more work for you and funders don’t apologise for this.
To significantly increase your chances of being successful at Outline Application stage, you need to work through the bid as though it were a Full Application. You need to know what your idea is, what problem it will address, how you will deliver the project in real detail including a timetable of activities and deliverables, be able to justify your methodology, and have it properly costed by your School Accountant. Some funders, The Leverhulme Trust for example, will not let you change the costs between Outline and Full Application stage, proving that they want you to know all of this detail at Outline stage. Once you know what you would need to know for a Full Application, you can write the summary the funder wants in the Outline Application with enough detail and conviction to spark their interest.
If you don’t know this detail at Outline Application stage, you’re effectively telling the funder that you’re not that interested in your proposal. So why should they be? Outline Applications may be short, but they’re clearly not simple. Outline Applications need to be of the highest quality so please, no more “It’s only an Outline…”