In addition to having solid research proposals, faculty need the skills and confidence to describe their work in clear, concise, and compelling language when applying for grant funding.

That’s why the University of Iowa Office of Research and Economic Development hosted the Phase II Workshop led by Peg AtKisson, Ph.D., of Grant Writers' Seminars and Workshops, LLC (GWSW) Jan. 27-29.

The workshop was designed to help academicians and researchers improve their grant writing techniques to increase their chances of securing funding for their work.

January’s workshop followed a Phase I Workshop, held Oct. 7, that gave participants a comprehensive overview of practical and conceptual aspects of the proposal writing process, including idea development, identification of the most appropriate granting agency, how to write for reviewers, and tips and proven strategies for presenting an applicant’s case to reviewers.

Participants were nominated by their collegiate associate deans for research and had to submit a pre-proposal to workshop during the session. This year 20 participants were accepted.

The Phase II workshop included group activities and one-on-one time to address participants’ specific needs. The program has three objectives for participants:

  • To write and submit the best application of which s/he is capable
  • To better understand the dynamics and psychology of the review process
  • To develop an appreciation that constructive criticism from colleagues can make the difference between an application’s success and failure

Post-workshop the participants continue to work with consultants from GWSW remotely to prepare a final proposal draft by July 30.

One participant was Melissa Bates, a human physiology professor and workshop participant developing a proposal for a project researching the immediate and long-term effects of the high levels of oxygen given to premature infants after birth. Bates said she enjoyed learning from and about the research activities of her co-participants.

“It was great,” Bates said. “You don’t ever get the opportunity to see the work that many people are doing at once—seeing the strengths of how they approached it, getting feedback from the group like that.”

She was also impressed by the feedback given by GWSW, saying she turned in two pages for her pre-proposal and received four pages of feedback. The GWSW also provides a very specific format to help participants write their proposals.

“There’s a step-by-step process that makes it a lot easier than just trying to write it as a narrative,” Bates said. “You have these responses you fill in throughout the page that helps you organize your ideas.”

Scott Shaw, a chemistry professor seeking funding to study and improve a chemical process that creates valuable materials from carbon dioxide, said the workshop isn’t like writing a proposal on your own, but he recommends it.

“It’s interesting to see so many different kinds of research all being described in the same format,” said Shaw.

Miriam Thaggert, an English professor studying the experiences of African American women as passengers and workers on the 19th century railroad, said one of the most helpful takeaways was getting feedback on early draft proposals from a variety of scholars, including those outside her field.

“The elements of a good proposal are the same regardless of field,” Thaggert said. “You need a convincing argument and a strong rationale. The terminology is different for various fields, but the core elements are similar.”

The UI Office of Research and Economic Development hosts the workshop every other year. For more information, contact Cheryl Ridgeway at or visit