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Arts and Humanities

Research Council

How to write a good

AHRC grant application

(Research Grants & Leadership Fellows)

V2, Jan. 2016

The content and the quality of the grant application submitted
to the AHRC determines whether or not the applicant is
successful in receiving the funding for which they have

To make sure that an application has the best possible

chance of being funded, it is important that applicants,
research officers and other staff, who assist them in preparing
and submitting an application, have a thorough understanding
of the application process and of what makes a good
The following slides focus on Research
Grants and Leadership Fellows with the
notes providing informal guidance for
applicants and research officers.
The AHRC advises applicants to read the
AHRC Research Funding Guide, the
Research Funding Guide for Leadership Fellows Sc
and all relevant scheme guidance.
Other schemes may vary at any stage so
please check the relevant guidance.

Research Grants (RGs) and Leadership Fellows (LFs) schemes operate

without formal deadlines and applicants can submit proposals at any time
of the year.

Assessment Process:

All responsive mode schemes operate without deadlines. The time

needed to assess a proposal can vary depending on the scheme.

Awards cannot be made for work that has already been done. Your
proposed start date should allow enough time to make the necessary
preparations and to recruit staff (if applicable) once you have been notified
of the award.
All proposals to AHRC responsive mode schemes should be costed on the
basis of the full economic costs (fEC) of the research and all costs that
contribute to the full economic costs of the proposal should be included.
Proposals should be costed using TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing)
methodology and should only include the costs required to support the
research related to the proposal (that is, costs which fall outside the scope of
the grant should not be included). RCUK have produced a FAQ document for
more information regarding costings, which can be found here.

Applicants should complete the proposal form on the Joint Electronic
Submission System (Je-S). AHRC uses the Standard Grant Proposal forms
on Je-S. When the proposal is completed it is initially submitted to the host
organisation’s administration to undertake quality control including
checking the completeness, validity and accuracy of the costs sought.
If the proposal is being submitted against a Call for Proposals then sufficient
time should be allowed for the organisation to process the proposal and
submit it to the Council before the specified time and closing date.
To consider - 1

Check the Research Funding Guides and scheme guidance to

• the proposal will be eligible
• the proposal fits the scheme
• you know what the assessment criteria are (read the peer
review section so that you know what reviewers are being
asked to consider)
•funder - which funder and which scheme?

•time – needed: (1) to prepare, to liaise with collaborators and to

complete the application including any internal institutional approval
processes and submission to Council, (2) to ensure proposed start dates
factor in internal approval processes and the recruitment of staff.
•Applicants should carefully consider the grant processing times in
relation to their start date to ensure that they will have enough time to
recruit staff and students to the grant. AHRC only allows slippage to start
dates in exceptional circumstances.
To consider – 2
•feedback - discuss your proposal with colleagues, peers and the
Research Office and get their feedback. If applicable, get partners on
board and allow time for them to contribute to the proposal
•costings – consult the Research Office on realistic costings

•content – research question, methodology and context

•impact and dissemination – read the guidance, consider the

options and consult
•presentation – making best use of space in the form. Read the Je-S
‘Help Text’ to check exactly what is needed in each scheme
•page limits – proposals exceeding page limits will be returned

•check and double check – that all information is included and is

Subject area and keywords

• For all schemes applicants are asked to classify a proposal in terms

of subject area and keywords. This information will be used to assist
in selecting Peer Review College reviewers.
• In framing a proposal, an applicant should ensure that it is
comprehensible to a wide academic audience, as panellists may not
have specific expertise in the particular subject area of the proposal
• Specialist advice is made available to the peer review panel via the
reviews provided by Peer Review College members
• The AHRC is committed to the principle that the work it funds should
be disseminated to as wide an audience as possible, both within the
UK and internationally. The Summary section on the proposal form
asks applicants to describe the proposed research in simple terms in
a way that could be publicised to a general audience and may be
published on the AHRC’s website if the application is successful.
Academic beneficiaries

• The Academic Beneficiaries section asks applicants to summarise

how their research will benefit other researchers in the field and –
where relevant – academic beneficiaries in other disciplines.

• Academic communication and dissemination plans should be

elaborated further in the Case for Support.
Impact summary

• The Impact Summary asks applicants to address two questions:

– who will benefit from the research?
– how will they benefit from the research?

• Applicants are asked to consider users and beneficiaries of the

research who are outside the academic research community (they
can be individuals, specific organisations or groups/sectors).

• Please note that the Impact Summary may be published to

demonstrate potential impact of Research Council funded research
and so should not include any confidential information.

Research Officers are advised also to refer to Section 5: ‘Impact’ in the

Resources Pack.
Pathways to impact - 1

The Pathways to Impact (Impact Plan) is primarily for detailing the

activities which will help develop potential economic and societal impacts.
It should continue on from the two questions, addressed within the Impact
Summary, by addressing the following question:
•What will be done to ensure that potential beneficiaries have the
opportunity to engage with this research?
The Pathways to Impact attachment is the applicant’s opportunity to
describe in more detail how the potential impacts of the research beyond
academia, as outlined in the Impact Summary, will be realised:
•how will the proposed research be managed to engage any users and
beneficiaries that have been identified, or are identified, as the research
•How will the applicant tailor and target their impact activities to ensure
that these are relevant to the specific user and beneficiary groups?
•How will the applicant tailor and target their impact activities to ensure
they are appropriate for supporting the potential research impacts
Innovative and creative approaches are strongly encouraged.
Pathways to impact - 2

• Applicants should consider (and address if appropriate) methods

for communications and engagement, collaboration and
• They should also detail who will be undertaking any impact
activities and include any resource implications in the financial
summary and in the separate Justification of Resources

The attachment should be:

• up to 2 sides of A4
• in Arial font no smaller than size 11
• normal margin sizes of 2cm must be used.
Attachment Research Grants Leadership Fellows Leadership Fellows early
Case for support X X X

Curriculum Vitae X X X

Publication lists X X X
Visual evidence (dependent on X (X) X
nature of project)
Technical Plan (if applicable) X X X

Justification of resources X X X

Pathways to impact X X X

Work plan X X

Head of Department Statement X X

Mentor Statement X

International Co-Investigator X
Head of Dept. Statement (if
Letters of Support (required if X X
there is a named Project Partner)
Curriculum Vitae

• A summary curriculum vitae should be attached as separate

documents for each Principal Investigator and any Co-Investigators,
named postdoctoral researchers or named project students.

• each CV: no more than two sides of A4 paper

• in an Arial font no smaller than size 11

• CVs should include basic information about education, employment

history, and academic responsibilities.

Applicants should bear in mind that the CV will help peer reviewers to
assess whether the applicant is well placed to undertake the
proposal project.
Publication Lists

• summary lists of publications/research outputs should be attached as

separate documents for each Principal Investigator and any Co-
Investigators or named postdoctoral researchers.

• these should cover major publications/outputs in the last five years

• no more than one side of A4 paper

• in an Arial font no smaller than size 11

• brief articles, conference papers, etc. should not be included.

• applicants should asterisk those publications/research outputs of

particular relevance to their current research proposal.
Visual evidence

• Applications may include no more than two sides of A4 non-

textual, visual evidence in support of the proposal, to illustrate
the proposed aims and objectives and/or research methods.

• It is not permitted to include this material to supplement or

replace the applicant’s CV or publications list or to illustrate
previous work in any way nor should it be used to circumvent
the page limit for the case for support.
Technical Plan - 1
Please read the Research Funding Guides for full guidance on the
Technical Plan. Applicants should consider carefully its definitions
within the context of their research proposal.

A Technical Plan should be provided for all applications where

digital outputs or digital technologies are essential to the planned
research outcomes.

A digital output or digital technology is defined as an activity which

involves the creation, gathering, collecting and/or processing of digital
information. In this context, digital technologies do not include
conventional software such as word processing packages and ICT
activities such as email.

You do not need to complete a Technical Plan if the only proposed

digital output or technology consists of web-pages containing
information about the project (as opposed to data produced by the
Technical Plan - 2

• The purpose is to demonstrate to the AHRC that technical provisions

within a research proposal have been adequately addressed in terms
– delivering the planned digital output or the digital technology from a
practical and methodological perspective;
– doing so in a way which satisfies the AHRC's requirements for
preservation and sustainability. The AHRC has a responsibility to
ensure that the research which it funds is achievable and high-
quality, and that the outputs of the research will wherever
appropriate be accessible to the community over the longer term.

• The level of detail provided should be proportionate to the envisaged

value and importance of the proposed digital output or technology and
to the cost of developing it.
Technical reviewers
Technical reviewers are selected from the Peer Review College to
provide grades and comments on the technical aspects of a proposal
submitted in the Technical Plan and will be asked to provide an
assessment covering the following:

•project management
•data development methods
•infrastructural support
•data preservation and sustainability
•copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR)

They will provide an overall assessment (grade and overall conclusions

on the proposal, including strengths and weaknesses).

The AHRC also asks technical reviewers to provide a brief summary of

the overall technical feasibility and merit of the proposal as well as any
reservations and/or recommendations which are relevant.
Justification for resources
Peer reviewers are asked to consider ‘Value for Money’, so please consider this
when justifying your resources.
Applicants should:
•explain why the indicated resources are needed, taking account of the nature and
complexity of the research proposed. It is not sufficient merely to list what is required
•have regard for the breakdown of resources into the summary fund headings
Directly Incurred, Directly Allocated and (where appropriate) Exceptions
•in some cases, such as investigator time, use of internal facilities and shared staff
costs (all likely to be Directly Allocated costs), the basis of the costing need not be
justified, but the need for the resources does need justification
•try to be explicit about the need for the level of investigator time sought, bearing in
mind the complexity of the research, the need to manage the project and supervise
staff and any wider considerations such as collaboration, research communication
or facilities usage.
There is no need to justify estates and indirects.
Any proposals requesting items that would ordinarily be found in a department, for
example non-specialist computers, should include justification both for why they are
required for the project and why they cannot be provided from the Research
Organisation's own resources (including funding from indirect costs from grants).
Case for Support - 1

A proposal must be accompanied by a Case for Support attachment.

It is extremely important that this includes the information described in
the Research Funding Guide.
The Case for Support headings have been developed based on
feedback from peer reviewers and applicants should use these
headings when writing their Case for Support.

•Proposals containing attachments exceeding the stated limits, or not

adhering to the specified format, will not be considered.
•If an applicant choose to include footnotes or a bibliography
(applicants are not required to do so) these must be included within the
page limit.
•The Case for Support should be in Arial font no smaller than size 11.
•Scheme-specific guidance on what should be included in the Case for
Support is contained in Section One of the Funding Guide.
Case for Support - 2

Page limits for each scheme are:

•grants (standard and early career route): 7 pages

•fellowships (standard and early career route): 7 pages

The statement of eligibility for the early career route does not count as
part of the page limit and should be written on 1 separate page.

While applicants should aim to make the Case for Support as concise,
specific and clear as possible, the work to be undertaken should
nonetheless be fully explained, as failure to provide adequate detail on
any aspects may seriously prejudice the application.

All Cases for Support need to include a heading of Technical Summary.

Case for Support - 3

All Cases for Support need to include a heading of Technical Summary.

If digital outputs or digital technologies are essential to the planned

research outcomes of your proposal, then you should:-
•a) use this section to provide a brief description of the project’s
proposed digital outputs and/or digital technologies.
•b) complete a Technical Plan and add this as an attachment to your

If your application does involve digital outputs or digital technologies, but

you believe that the inclusion of a Technical Plan is not warranted, you
should use this section to explain and justify this, for instance on the
grounds that the digital output or technologies are not essential to the
planned research outcomes.
Case for Support - 4
Applicants should describe their proposed project/programme of
research using the required headings for their scheme (see table
Required case for Fellowships Fellowships early Research Grants Research Grants
support headings career Standard early career
Highlight notice (if x x x x

Research questions x x x x
or problems

Research context x x x x

Research methods x x x x

Leadership x x
development plans

Technical Summary x x x x

Project management x x x x

Dissemination x x x x

Statement of x x
Completing the proposal
• All proposals must be completed and submitted via Je-S.

• To submit proposals using Je-S, both individual applicants and the

submitting Research Organisation (the one that will hold the award)
must be registered on the system.

• Applicants should ensure that their correct contact details are in their Je-
S record, as the AHRC uses this to notify applicants of the outcome of
their applications.

• Detailed Helptext within the Je-S system provides information on how to

complete each section of the proposal form.

• Dedicated Je-S help desk available between 9am and 5pm, Monday to
Friday, e-mail: jeshelp@rcuk.ac.uk or telephone: 01793 444164.
Creating a proposal - 1

• to prepare a proposal form in Je-S, the applicant should log into

their account and choose ‘New Document’, then select AHRC as
the Council, choose their Document Type and Scheme to which
they are applying and ‘Create Document’.

• Je-S will then create a proposal form, displaying section headings

appropriate to the Scheme the applicant has chosen.

• using the ‘Help’ link at the top of each page will provide guidance
relevant to that section of the Je-S form.

• once complete, applicants should upload a Case for Support and

other supporting information as attachments, and submit their
Creating a proposal - 2

• Je-S will forward the applicant’s proposal to their Research

Organisation, who in turn will submit the proposal to AHRC.

• Ensure sufficient time is allowed prior to AHRC deadlines for the

Research Organisation to be able to do this (note that some
Research Organisations will have their own internal deadlines).

• The published scheme deadline is for submission of the completed

application to the AHRC by the Research Organisation.

• Late proposals will not be accepted.

• Proposals containing attachments exceeding the stated limits, or not

adhering to the specified format, will not be considered.

Unless otherwise stated in the scheme specific guidance, the

following criteria will be taken into account by the peer
reviewers in assessing a proposal.
The AHRC is fundamentally committed to competitive bidding and
assessment by process of peer review, and for this reason it brings its
peer reviewers together as part of its Peer Review College.

College members are a key part of the system, which is designed to

ensure that peer review is conducted with the utmost attention to
fairness and transparency, and to the requirements of academic

College members have a duty of confidence and, on joining the

College, agree to treat all applications made to the AHRC
Quality and importance

• the extent to which the proposal meets the specific aims of the
scheme to which the applicant is applying
• the significance and importance of the project, and of the
contribution it will make, if successful, to enhancing or developing
creativity, insights, knowledge or understanding of the area to be
studied in a national or international context
• the extent to which the research questions, issues or problems that
will be addressed in the course of the research are defined and their
importance and appropriateness specified
• the appropriateness of the research context and specification of why
it is important that these particular questions, issues or problems are
addressed. The extent to which other current research conducted in
this area has been considered, and the range of audiences that
might be targeted
• the appropriateness, effectiveness and feasibility of the proposed
research methods and/or approach.
• the quality and importance of the applicant’s work to date

• the applicant’s ability to monitor the project and bring it to completion

as demonstrated in the application

• the appropriateness of the level and balance (in terms of time and
seniority) of the proposed staffing on the project, and the extent to
which opportunities will be made available for less experienced

• whether the other named participants have the appropriate

experience and expertise to deliver the project.

• The suitability of the opportunities which the project will make

available to support the development of the research staff on the
Management of the project

• whether the lines of responsibility and accountability are clearly


• whether a realistic timetable, incorporating milestones, is presented

which will achieve the project’s aims and objectives within the
proposed timescale

• the extent to which the applicant has understood the amount of work
to be involved, allocated sufficient time and resources to achieving
each aspect.
Value for money

• the extent to which the likely outcome of the research will represent
value for money, and in particular the relationship between the
funds that are sought and the significance and quality of the
projected outcomes of the research

• whether the resources requested are reasonable in the context of

the proposed research.
Outputs, dissemination and impact - 1

• the appropriateness and effectiveness of the proposed dissemination

• the extent to which the research process is documented or recorded
in a way to enable dissemination of research outcomes to the widest
possible audience
• the likelihood that the outputs and outcomes of the project will be
highly valued and widely exploited, both in the research community
and in wider contexts where they can make a difference
• whether the plans to increase impact are appropriate and justified,
given the nature of the proposed research
• whether sufficient attention has been given to who the beneficiaries
of the research might be and appropriate ways to engage with them
throughout the project.
Outputs, dissemination and impact - 2

• Applicants are encouraged to disseminate their research and its

outcomes to as wide an audience as possible, and where
appropriate to engage in communication, dissemination and
exploitation activities throughout the period of the project.

• Applicants should therefore specify the audiences to whom their

research could be of interest, and how they propose to engage with
those audiences about their research.
The Peer Review College

• All proposals will be considered where possible, by a minimum of

three members of the AHRC’s Peer Review College. A complete list
of Peer Review College members is available on the AHRC website.

• The Peer Review College members will provide the AHRC with
comments and graded reviews.

• The AHRC reserves the right to seek reviews from specialists who
are not members of the Peer Review College if suitable College
members are not available, or where such peer review input is
required as part of agreements with other funding bodies.

• Reviews may be sought from specialists within the UK or abroad.

• All peer reviews are subject to a quality check. Reviews deemed by

the AHRC to be of insufficient quality will either be sent back to the
reviewer for revision, or rejected from the assessment process.
Peer Reviewer grading scales

The grading scales used by peer reviewers can be found in the

Research Funding Guides. Grades are from 6 (outstanding) to 1

Sifting of proposals

Proposals will be sifted before going to moderating panel based on the

following principles:
•The AHRC will reject a proposal upon submission where the proposal
does not meet the published eligibility criteria; either relating to
documentation requirements or where it does not meet the aims or
criteria of the scheme to which it has been submitted.
(See also slides on ‘Sifting Process’)
•The AHRC will sift proposals against quality criteria, solely on the
basis of information supplied by an AHRC peer review process.
The sifting process - 1
The sifting process occurs in two stages:

Sift stage 1:

AHRC officers will check that:

•All applicants and named staff are eligible under the scheme
•The proposal meets the aims and criteria of the scheme to which it has
been submitted.
•All application documents are eligible under the scheme requirements.

Proposals which do not meet these criteria will be rejected and returned
to the applicant with feedback on why it could not proceed.
The sifting process - 2

Sift stage 2:

A sifting decision is made based on the overall confidence levels and

grades given by the peer review process.

A proposal is rejected if it receives two or more reviews that give

the proposal an unfundable grade.

A grade is considered ‘unfundable’ where it is described as either Not

Recommended for Funding or Not Suitable for Funding (grades
1, 2 or 3).
Technical review

• Where the proposal requires completion of the Technical Plan

attachment, then the proposal will be forwarded to a Technical
Reviewer from the Peer Review College to assess the technical
feasibility of the proposal.

• This technical review will be included in the PI Response process.

• Technical Reviews will also be forwarded to the peer review panels,

or other decision making body as appropriate, to assist them in
making their grading decisions.

• Please note that Technical Reviews will not be taken into account
when assessing eligibility, or during the sifting of proposals.
Principal Investigator response - 1

Applications which receive two or more grades of 4, 5 or 6 will proceed

to the next stage of PI response.

The applicant will be given the right of reply to the reviews received.

•The PI response allows applicants to correct any factual errors or

conceptual misunderstandings, or to respond to any queries highlighted
in the comments from the peer reviewers. It is not intended to be an
opportunity to change or re-constitute a proposal in the light of the
reviewers' comments.

•Applicants are not obliged to submit a response, but it is

recommended that they do so as responses are forwarded to the peer
review panel(s), and are taken into account in the grading and
prioritisation of proposals.
Principal Investigator response - 2
• The AHRC is not able to provide applicants with exact dates of when
they will be contacted for the PI response. Once the reviews have
been obtained, applicants will be sent an e-mail which details the
page limit and deadline that apply to their PI response. These vary
according to the scheme and the number of reviews, which have
been received, so it is vital to read the email carefully.

• Applicants may wish to refer to the guidance note on PI Response.

• If a PI response is not received within the period stated, then an

application will proceed to panel without it.
Moderation panels

Moderation panels assess Research Grants and Leadership Fellows


Members do not re-assess proposals but moderate the reviews which

have been received, along with the PI Response to those reviews, and
use this as the basis for ranking.

In order to do this, members need to use academic judgment based on

the reviews and PI Response.

Based on the recommendations of the panel, the AHRC makes the final
funding decision.
Peer review panels
Non-standing Peer Review Panels are convened on an ad hoc basis from
the Peer Review College membership.
•In selecting panel members the AHRC aims to achieve a balance in
terms of gender, ethnicity, institution and regional distribution, and to
achieve a range of expertise which broadly reflects that of the spread of
•The proposal, peer reviews, technical review (where applicable) and the
PI’s response to these reviews will be considered individually by
members of the peer review panel and then discussed at the panel
•The peer review panel will determine a final grade for each application
and will rank proposals in order of priority for funding. The panel will
consider only the expert peer reviews, technical review (where applicable)
and the PI’s response to these reviews to reach its decisions. Final
funding decisions will rest with the AHRC.
•Peer review panel members are not permitted to discuss with applicants
the content of any proposals they have reviewed, either during or after the
assessment process.
Notification of the outcome

• The AHRC is not able to notify applicants of the outcome of their

proposal by telephone.

• All outcome notifications are sent electronically to the email

address shown on the applicant’s Je-S record.

• If an applicant is unsuccessful, they will receive an email advising

that they have not been offered an award, and indicating the final
outcome their proposal received.

• The AHRC is unable to provide information on why their proposal

was unsuccessful.

Applicants are advised that under no circumstances should they

contact peer review panel members to discuss individual
proposals, meeting details or outcomes.
Resubmission policy

• In line with the AHRC’s approach to demand management,

unsuccessful applicants are not permitted to resubmit the same, or
substantively similar, proposal to the same scheme.

• In very particular circumstances the AHRC may, exceptionally,

decide to invite an applicant to resubmit the proposal. This will
happen only where the panel identifies an application of exceptional
potential and can identify specific changes to the application that
could significantly enhance its competitiveness.

• Invited resubmissions will be assessed in the usual way in

competition with all other proposals.
Research Councils UK have a responsibility to demonstrate the value and impact of
research supported through public funding. RCUK uses information that researchers
provide on the outputs, outcomes and impact (subsequently referred to as ‘outcomes’) of
their Research Council-funded projects to report to, and engage with, both the
Government and the public. Collecting the outcomes and impact of research enables
RCUK to:
•provide a strong evidence base to support the continued funding of research in the UK
•improve the quality of reporting about research outcomes to Government, the public and
other organisations
•strengthen policy and strategy development
•develop and maintain a longer term relationship with award holders through the capture
of new developments and impacts from research after an award has finished
•improve communication with researchers and Research Organisations (ROs), offering
new opportunities to explore how best to capture the results of research funding
•engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable
Information on research outcomes attributed to all RCUK funded awards are now
collected online via the facility known as Researchfish ®.