Writing a good funding application

Administrative data is undoubtedly a powerful research resource which can deliver rich insights into the UK population and our public services. Applying for research funding to use this data, however, can present unique challenges. This page contains some tips to help you write a strong application. 


Before you start, be sure that this is the right funding opportunity for you: does it suit your career stage and academic profile? Will you be able to develop your research interests?  Can you draw on your strengths as well as learn new skills?  Do you have people around you who can support you? 

If the answer is yes to these questions, you should share your plans with your colleagues, your mentor (if you have one), and research support office early on. They will help you plan your application, draw up a timeline, and support you with content. Check if your university has a deadline which is ahead of the actual funding deadline and factor this in to allow time for getting relevant approvals.  

Think about who else can help you. Ask other successful researchers if you can read their applications. Approach specialists who have skills you might lack, such as statisticians. Talk to relevant external organisations to get their support, such as charities or public sector organisations. ADR UK’s public engagement resources could also be a useful resource. 

Make sure you read and understand the metadata of the dataset you plan to use. Summaries and information about ADR UK’s flagship datasets could also be useful. Discuss the data with others: are the variables and timespan sufficient to answer your research question? Establishing feasibility is an important step to writing a successful application, so early engagement with data owners and data processors is advised. 

Writing your application

Remember that the panel who will review your application doesn’t know you, your interests, your motivation, or your vision. They are also unlikely to know the detail of the dataset you are planning to use. Bearing this in mind, be as thorough and explicit as possible with the information you provide 

Present a strong idea with real world implications that will draw people in. State how it is relevant to society, why it matters, why now, what gap it fills, why you are passionate about it, and why you are the right person to complete the research. Reference relevant policies and practices or refer to Areas of Research Interest to evidence why this work needs to be done. 

Set out your approach clearly: describe the variables and methodologies you plan to use and why.  Make your plan convincing and credible. 

Study the language of the funding opportunity documentation and make sure you understand what is being asked for. Reflect the language in your application, use clear headings, and organise your application in a logical way so the reviewer can follow your train of thought.   

To save on words, cross-reference your documents. You should also situate your work within existing literature and reference the theoretical or conceptual frameworks you will be drawing on. 

You also need to prove that you know what you are doing and what gaps exist for you. Give examples of previous work where you have undertaken this scale of analysis, or where you have worked with complex datasets. Cite references to published work, including blogs or other research outputs. And be explicit in stating the training that you need and how you will get it. If you don’t have a background in using administrative data or with a particular methodology, clarify how you are going to address those gaps and re-assure any funding panel that you will either develop those skills or draw on expertise elsewhere. 

Don’t underestimate time or costs for your project. Get advice on all aspects of this from your research office and colleagues. 

What will make your application stand out 

Don’t be vague: Be explicit about methods, including what you will do, why, and how you will do it. State your experience and skills and how they match the task you are setting with this proposal. 

Give examples: Back up your experience with links to work you have done previously and projects you’ve been involved with. This will prove both your passion for this work and your experience. 

Demonstrate that you have adequate support around you: You may have a mentor, a statistician, or support from your department. Make sure your support team complements your skills, but always demonstrate that you have the support of your line manager and your department. 

Hear from past applicants

ADR UK has recorded a webinar to share insights from successful applications and present common challenges presented by applicants to the popular ADR UK Research Fellowship scheme. Watch it below. 


You can also browse this slide deck from the webinar, which presents insights and guidance for addressing key application criteria. 

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