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Preparing and submitting a research proposal

What counts as research?

The Frascati definition of research reads:

"Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications."

"R&D is a term covering three activities: basic research, applied research, and experimental development. Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Applied research is also original investigation undertaken to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience, that is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed."

Guide to Research Activity Definitions and Decisions

 

What is the difference between a Research Grant and Contract? 

The term 'Research Grant' is restricted to research projects funded by Sponsors whose terms and conditions are non-negotiable, such as the UK Research Councils, NHS Executive Northwest, NHS Trust Endowment and Bequest Funds, Charities, Higher Education Funding Councils and certain Government Bodies. Awards are usually made in response to competitive bids and are for a set period to enable a specific research project to be undertaken.

In simple terms a contract can be defined as:

"An agreement to define the rights and obligations of the parties involved."

All research requires a contract to be signed in one form or another and by accepting the offer, whether it is financial or 'in kind', a contract is formed. An 'in kind' contract refers to non-financial collaboration, e.g. use of external equipment, facilities or services where a fee is not incurred. For commercial bodies, it takes the form of an individual contract specific to the research project and details the terms and conditions under which the project should be carried out.

 

What help is there?

Each faculty provides a range of guidance and resources to help you prepare and submit your proposal.

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Science and Engineering

Check the funder guidance

Eligibility criteria can vary between funders and individual calls, so be sure to check both the general funder and call specific terms and edibility criteria for each proposal.

What do I need to consider when preparing a research proposal?

Familiarise yourself with your Faculty Approval and Submission Process

Your faculty may have a minimum notice policy for a costing or approval. Familiarise yourself with the processes ahead of time here:

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Science and Engineering

The Approvals Matrix can be found on the Finance webpages here. The Approvals Matrix is a summary of University policies regarding expenditure, budgets, research grants and contracts and related areas. Each section is cross referenced to the relevant provision in the Financial Regulations and Procedures.

Request a costing

Each proposal must be costed by the Research Support Service. RSS staff have access to specialist costing tools and experience of previous successful applications, and will structure budgets in an appropriate and competitive manner, ensuring principles of Full Economic Costing (fEC) are followed correctly.
You can find your local RSS colleagues here:

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Science and Engineering

Contact your local Research Support Service

The Faculty Research Support Service teams are here to guide you through the application process. Your local RSS team will help to cost your proposal, assist with the approvals and submission processes, and more. You can find your local RSS colleagues here:

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Science and Engineering

Organise a peer review

Institutional peer review for grant applications

Internal peer review is deployed to enhance and improve the quality of applications being submitted to funding bodies in order to improve overall success rates. Each Faculty has a peer review protocol which covers Faculty level review as well as providing a framework for School level peer review. These protocols vary as appropriate to take account of funder and disciplinary differences.

University level peer review is used in circumstances where the subject of the call covers more than one Faculty and either:

  • the funding body has indicated the maximum number of applications which can be made or indicated that only a very small number of bids are likely to succeed, or
  • the University Research Strategy Group has deemed the call to be of strategic importance and requires oversight to ensure the best possible bid(s) are submitted.

Please refer to the full guidance below:

Process for University level peer review of grant applications
FBMH protocol
FSE protocol
Humanities protocol

Does your proposal include equipment?

If your proposal contains a piece of equipment you may need Faculty approval before you submit your proposal. You can read more about the requirements here:

Capital Expenditure

General rules and approval process workflows

If you need approval for equipment, your Research Support Service can help you secure the necessary permissions.

Consider whether you need ethical approval?

The University of Manchester provides a number of resources to help you determine whether your research requires ethical review and if so, by which ethical review body (UREC, Division/School or NHS REC. Click here for more information.

Does your proposal include any external collaborators or subcontractors?

When considering partners to collaborate with, the PI is expected to carry out the following checks for each collaborator:

  • Speak to colleagues (internally or externally) with previous experience of working with the collaborator. This may reassure the PI of existing successful partnerships, as well as raise any potential concerns.
  • Carry out an online search of the collaborator. Good and bad news stories should be considered, as well as evidence of projects that may suggest their capacity to carry out the required research. 
  • Check the Corruption Index of the country the organisation is based in (https://www.transparency.org/). A low score indicates that the collaborator may be operating in a country in which the level of corruption in the public sector is perceived to be high. 

These checks are provided as a minimum, it is understood that many PIs will examine potential partners in much greater detail.

Beyond this, there are a number of institutional due diligence checks that will be applied according to the perceived level of risk. Where applicable these checks will be coordinated by your local Research Services Team. Further guidance and FAQs are provided on the dedicated Research Services StaffNet page:

Some supplies of research are subject to VAT. Find out more about VAT and research:

Is there potential for conflict of interest?

Each school maintains a Register of Interests. Staff must declare any personal interest that might be reasonably deemed to compromise impartiality, conflict with duty as an employee or potentially result in a conflict of interests leading to private benefit.

In addition, some funders may have their own conflicts of interest policies. For example, since 2012 all NIH funded researchers must make an annual FCOI declaration and undertake online FCOI training. Read more about the process here.

Electronic Submission Systems

Major UK Funder Submission Portals

Je-S ( used by AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC and STFC)
Royal Society
Wellcome Trust
Leverhulme Trust
Cancer Research UK

Major International Funder Submission Portals

eRA Commons (NIH)
Fastlane Research Administration (NSF)
Grants.gov
Proposal Central

If you need to register with another funder’s electronic submission system, and you are unsure if the University is registered with them, or you need any help and assistance, please email the Research Operations Team at researchoperations@manchester.ac.uk