Fruit Flies are Little People – Bidding for Funding the Writing Process

This workshop was facilitated by Robert Sunders & Anne Adams. It was a combination of workshop activities where we put together titles and abstracts for a bid which we then pitched to the group for comment. Listening to the abstracts from others from different disciplines was very interesting and getting an informed critique from Robert and Anne, and from others in the room, helped focus the mind on things I should focus on in my bid writing attempts. Writing the lay-person summary was quite challenging for those in the sciences side as they needed to use quite complex terms, but Robert and Anne pointed out where these could be simplified and how the context of the term could help transfer meaning, even if the term itself was rather specialist.

Robert described in a very entertaining way how he tried to argue that fruit flies are like little people in that they provide a valid simulation over a much shorter time frame which is good for research purposes 🙂

Collaborative Bids

Funding often given to people who have done pilots, or who are inter-disciplinary. So, useful to seek others who are doing work that may be complementary to your idea.

Research councils like people getting together with complementary expertise.

External collaboratorss become partners. Can be done. AA – you have to think how it is of benefit for them. Think about how positive it is for them to collaborate with you. The OU is national – large student bases so huge potential to connect up for example to the NHS across the country. OU at cutting edge of distance learning.

Finding out about Funds and Expertise

Go to funders’ website such as  ESRC or EPSC and see who has been funded.

Go to Grant Portfolios group within the OU to see who at the OU has been funded and what they’re funded for. This may give you angle to something else that you an do.

RS: Problem we face is knowing what is going on. Trawl intranet manually. Attend departmental seminars. Read university strategy document – useful for identifying thematic areas.  Also, ask Grants and Contracts for list of what is going on.

Subscribe to RSS feeds for research councils you’re interested in. ESRC  – mailing lists. ResearchResearch search (who are changing name).

Identify audience you’re writing for. Look at abstracts – terminology important. For example, EPSRC like the word education, ESRC prefer the term learning. ESRC like Social, EPSRC do not

Named Calls

Be careful about squeezing a proposal to fit the call.

Failed Bids

Grants and Contracts office have details of all bids including failed bids.

JISC – say they don’t fund research, but this isn’t strictly true. Supposed to be funding information system development. Cannot be used in REF. However good way to get a pilot that you an use toward something else.

Sample Bids

We looked at two bids one from Robert, one from Anne.

Covering letter important

Aims are higher, objectives more specific.

Hypothesis important (if stated). Important to follow descriptors when writing and formatting your report.


An extrememly important bit to write. It focuses your mind on what is important in the case for support. Don’t leave it until the end.

Looks at your research at different levels of abstraction and relates quite closely to the impact summary.

Technical summary:

For more expert audience. Like an abstract – 2000 words

Beneficiaries summary:

Academic beneficiaries. What research areas external to OU would benefit from this. Who is going to benefit academically (4000 words). In JeS this is just plain text so no fancy formatting possible. Help councils see how it fits in terms of strategic relevance, relationship to funders strategic priorities.

Impact Plan:

(Anne Adams successful one). Noted by reviewers as successful. At interview, they said  they had questions on impact but that this was such a good impact plan that they didn’t need to ask them. Successful at relating the research to their objectives. She related her project to the overall reasons why this project was being funded. She used tables (v. useful).

Listed various types of impact beneficiaries in the table. Companies they would be working with, potentially developers, disabled communities, distance learners, etc plus general public.

Then set of mechanisms that would fit with the list of beneficiaries that would support the impact.

Seminars, demonstrations, having professional company to do a video (included in costings). If you don’t put £10000 in bid for iTunes U vid then they may ask you to.

Communicating to them that they will be showing through your research that their funding is valuable.

Timeframes for achieving objectives.

Over the page Anne described partners and how this could cause collaborative impact.

Showed that she had Co Investigators (champions in other areas)

Finally advisory board of external experts who will be able to advise on other areas (geology, etc). Specific to this specific call but also gives a high level abstract of what this funded research will achieve.

Evaluation Document

ESRC provide this online of their criteria for evaluation so that you can put your bid in a structure that will help them evaluate it effectively. Hunt this down on the funding body website.

Case for Support

Robert goes through the structure. It is important to have an informed critical reader. In his case it was his co-applicant who at one point restructured (rather nervously) their bid however he felt that this got their ideas across much better. If you don’t have a collaborator like that, find somebody to critically review.

Robert recommends including some white space so that you can see the separate sections/structure of the document. Find out if somebody else can navigate their way through the document.

There are regulations for font/font size/margins etc.

There are diff audiences. Case for support audience is committee members from fields related to but not exactly same as yours. Referees probably closer to your field. You need to ensure that it is accessible. This is why it is so important to punt your bid around your colleagues to check that it rewally is accessible.

Full Economic Costings

Robert says these are quite liberating. I asked why. He responded that you can cost for things that you didn’t necessarily anticipate such as an extra 3 months time for writing up.


Needs to emaphsise how innovative the project is, identifying where it is taking things a step further.

When writing abstract or proposal, break it down into subsections. Itemise it by subject headings to make it easier to folow. Try to make the project look coherent, though, rather than too many separate bits. Ann – hourglass model – very borad – what does it mean, then focus it in, what is it you’re going to do, then braod again, that is going to impact on and  make a difference to the world.

By Gill

About Gill

Having worked as a Research Fellow with the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, I have now semi-retired but retained my association with the OU as an Honorary Associate.
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