General application tips

  • Know your target funding stream
  • Read the Guidance Notes specific to the scheme
  • Confirm scheme is appropriate for your career stage and you meet eligibility criteria
  • If unsure whether the research is in scope/scheme appropriate to your career stage don’t hesitate to contact the Project Officer for the scheme
  • Seek advice from colleagues, potential co-applicants, specialists such as staff in Clinical Research Facilities or other relevant infrastructures, statisticians and other methodologists, and the research office
  • Allow enough time
  • Understand the assessment process and write with this in mind
  • Assemble a strong team and choose collaborators carefully
  • Consider our gender policy
  • Read the corporate strategy
  • Look at our Mission, Vision and Values
  • Look at the funder’s website, e.g. position statements and policies
  • You will need to convince experts in your field/area/methodology (international peer reviewers) and a mixed audience from a variety of scientific backgrounds (the panel)
  • Write the lay summary for the layperson
  • Write for international reviewers who are not familiar with the situation in Ireland. Describe the context for your study, how healthcare is delivered and/or funded in Ireland if applicable, provide figures for incidence/prevalence and avoid abbreviations and acronyms
  • An important research area where original thinking and innovation in the project is highlighted (where relevant)
  • A well-written and clearly presented application
  • Timeliness of the topic with relevance to the needs of healthcare in Ireland and/or globally
  • Identifiable deliverables within the required timeframe
  • An applicant team that has an appropriate track record in research and demonstrates the necessary breadth and depth of expertise in all methodological areas required to deliver the research proposed
  • Evidence of appropriate consultation, partnerships and collaborations
  • A convincing research design with appropriate research method/s
  • A feasible plan where potential problems are identified, discussed and a mitigation plan proposed
  • An ambitious proposal but not overly ambitious so as not to be possible within the timelines and/or resources available
  • Clear and appropriate objectives, primary and secondary outcome measures
  • Demonstrable value for money where the resources requested are clearly justified and are appropriate to the type and scale of the work outlined
  • An appropriate dissemination plan that teases out the various target audiences and proposes activities accordingly
  • Evidence of meaningful public and patient involvement, where applicable
  • A strong and convincing case for potential impact in the short, medium and long term, but not overly-stated to the extent that it no longer aligns with the study aims, objectives and methods
  • Attention to detail – e.g. spellcheck complete
  • Edit, proofread and make sure all sections are complete
  • Ask co-applicants to review the application and ensure that their input is covered appropriately
  • If you have tracked changes in the document, accept all changes and make sure to submit a clean version.
  • Ensure all related supporting documentation is included
  • Ask a colleague to comment on readability and flow
  • Be aware of deadlines ahead of the HRB deadline where you are asking others for input, e.g. HRB CRCI, a research infrastructure, and of course the research office.
  • Leave time to discuss and finalise the budget section with your Research Office (or equivalent)
  • Be succinct yet clear and comprehensive
  • Acknowledge all significant concerns and/or weaknesses described in feedback even if the applicant - team does not agree with some of them and/or does not propose to address some
  • If the applicant team disagrees with a reviewer’s statement explain clearly why
  • Acknowledge and discuss the implications of taking on board some of the feedback (e.g., for applicant team, research personnel, cost, timelines, methods)
  • Avoid coming across as argumentative or overly defensive
  • Do not propose to change significantly the application following the peer-reviewers comments
  • Ethical issues –the need to have research ethics committee approval
  • Are you working to a code of Good Research Practice
  • Have you thought about Intellectual Property Rights
  • Have you considered Data Protection and confidentiality
  • Do you have indemnity cover where needed
  • Failure to meet eligibility criteria
  • Failure to demonstrate importance of the topic or new or original ideas
  • Research question is ill-identified, unfocused or unsupported by preliminary data
  • The study as designed will not answer the research question
  • Theoretical or conceptual underpinning of the study is weak or poorly articulated
  • Lack of clarity over objectives or outcomes measures
  • Project is overly ambitious and not feasible within timeframe or available budget
  • Incomplete or poor literature review where critical references are omitted
  • Proposal expects too much from junior research personnel or research team has allocated too little time to deliver project
  • Applicant team is missing critical skills or expertise (most common omissions are statistician, clinical trialist, qualitative researcher, behavioural scientist, health economist)
  • Insufficient methodological detail to convince the reviewers that the team knows what it is doing
  • Intended users of a product or process are not involved in the development
  • Detectable effect size is not large enough to be clinically significant or result in a change of practice
  • Concerns over sample size, especially where the study is powered based on a previously under-powered pilot study
  • Not clear if study is at feasibility stage or a definitive trial and/or it is incorrectly framed as a definitive trial when there is no evidence of previous feasibility studies
  • Little or no discussion on control group or intervention – what is usual care?
  • Lack of acceptability testing of an intervention
  • No discussion of possible problems/limitations and no contingency plan
  • Lack of a convincing dissemination plan
  • Data analysis and management plan vague or missing altogether
  • Lack of research vision and clear career plans in career development schemes
  • Training and development plan not well thought out in training and career development schemes
  • Lack of appropriate mentorship in training and career development schemes

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) provides a useful checklist to help you review a document to see if it uses plain English and is easy to follow. It can be download from the NALA website at the link below.


Methodological design tips

  • Contact your local Clinical Research Facility/Centre and avail of the study design supports offered to researchers
  • Assume that the reviewers are appraising the application looking for a flaw. Search for them yourself by asking “where could it go wrong?”
  • The following questions should be addressed in the protocol where using the below methodologies
  • Is there a description of the population which will be sampled?
  • Is the method of sampling described? random, cluster, stratified.
  • Is the method of recruiting subjects described?
  • Is the issue of representativeness addressed?
  • Is there a strategy to minimise non-response?
  • Is the method of collecting data described? Interview, postal questionnaire etc.
  • Is an outline given of the data to be collected?
  • Is the sample size justified?
  • Is there a description of the statistical methods to be used?
  • Is the study group clearly defined?
  • Is the method of identifying and recruiting subjects described?
  • Is the method of follow up described?
  • Is the length of follow up justified?
  • Is there a strategy to minimise losses to follow up?
  • Is the outcome measure clearly defined, clinically relevant and likely to be accurately measured?
  • Is account taken of factors which could influence the outcome?
  • Is the sample size justified?
  • Is there evidence that the desired number of subjects can be obtained?
  • Is there a description of the statistical methods to be used?
  • Are the cases clearly defined?
  • Do the controls come from the same general population as the cases?
  • Is the method of recruiting cases and controls described?
  • Is the method of collecting data described? i.e. interview or postal questionnaire.
  • Will data be collected in the same way for cases and controls?
  • Is the sample size justified?
  • Is there evidence that the desired number of cases and controls can be obtained?
  • Is there a description of the statistical methods to be used?
  • Is the theoretical basis of the study described?
  • Is the method of data collection described?
  • Is the role of the researcher discussed?
  • Is it clear how the analysis will be performed?
  • Does the person who will conduct the analysis have sufficient experience?
  • Is an economist mentioned in the proposal?
  • Is the relevant economic theory described?
  • Is the method of costing described?
  • Is the source of the costing data identified?
  • Is the health outcome measure described?
  • Where will the trial be registered?
  • Is the patient group described?
  • Is the method of recruiting study subjects described?
  • Is there evidence that the required number of subjects can be obtained?
  • Are there procedures for obtaining informed consent?
  • Is the method of randomisation described?
  • Is the intervention clearly described?
  • Is there a good argument why the intervention should work?
  • Is the control treatment clearly described?
  • Is the study double blind?
  • Is the primary outcome measure clearly defined, clinically relevant?
  • Is account taken of factors which could influence the outcome?
  • Is there a strategy to minimise losses to follow up?
  • Is the sample size justified?
  • Is there a description of the statistical methods to be used?
  • Will the trial be reported using CONSORT criteria?