Grants 101 Resources

How Long Does it Take to Write a Grant?

Jul 13, 2022

Hi, colleagues:

How long does it take to write a grant? It’s hard to find an answer to this question. Most people will tell you, “It depends.” This classic academic answer is true, but it’s not helpful when you’re trying to plan out your life and career. 

I set out to find a better (or at least more detailed) answer for you when I was researching and writing my book on grant writing. I asked expert grant writers about their timelines. 

Most people reported that a grant, especially their early grants, took them several months to write. 

Here are some examples: one scholar said she started six months before her deadline for her R01 grant for the National Institutes of Health. She wrote for 25 hours a week for two months. I spoke with several scholars who tracked their writing time to the minute. One scholar told me she spent 158 hours writing her R01 grant to the National Institutes of Health. She wrote that grant with collaborators, so she was not responsible for writing the entire grant. Another researcher said his grant writing time clocked in at 150 hours.

At the same time, you will hear stories of scholars who write grants in two or three days, and then get funded. They’re true stories. For many of these scholars, they’re leveraging important advantages: years of grant writing experience, past grants or papers, or some sort of inside track (e.g., a network, career success, special topic). 

But for most of us, a great grant takes time to write. 

What factors influence how long it takes to write a grant? Here’s a checklist of factors to consider that will extend or contract your timeline. 

  • The deadline. This is obvious. But I want to underscore that in grant writing, deadlines are non-negotiable. In most types of scholarly writing, deadlines are self-imposed or negotiable. Grant writing is different. You must make the deadline. 
  • Amount of material required. Grants vary with regard to how much is required for submission. Check requirements early, as they determine your timeline. For example, some grants require many supplemental documents (e.g., human subjects, data management plans, postdoctoral training plans, etc.). 
  • Relationship building. If you need to build partnerships or find collaborators or mentors, start on this piece early. Relationship building cannot be rushed. (Well, relationships can be rushed. But that causes all types of problems, as we know from reality tv.)
  • Internal deadlines. Check with your research administrators early about what your internal deadlines are. Research administrators are people at your institution who help submit your grant. You do not usually submit your grant directly to a funder. Research administrators submit on behalf of your institution (because grants are awarded to your institution, not directly to you). Your institution has to review your grant before submission. That can add weeks to your timeline. At my institution, I have to submit grants 10 days before the deadline.
  • Your job responsibilities. How much time will you have to write? Spending 150 hours on a grant looks different when you’re able to devote 100% of your time to it versus 10% of your time to it (e.g., when you have to also teach multiple courses or cover clinics). 
  • Your writing pace. Some grant writers prefer to write drafts in one large chunk. They’ll take a “retreat” and focus only on writing. In contrast, I can't write productively for long periods of time. I write in small chunks (2 - 3 hour blocks) over many weeks.

Here’s a printable version of our timeline checklist. My advice is to use as much time as you’re able to spare on your grant. That gives your grant the highest chance of success. But you also have life and job demands. Find the balance that works for you. 

Thanks for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas!


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P.S. If this post was helpful to you, would you mind sharing it with a friend? Helping each other is one way we make this career path more sustainable.

P.P.S. Check out this amazing worm compost farm my in-laws just set up. It’s called a “worm cafe.” Apparently, worms can compost up to 5kg of food waste a week. Have you ever tried composting? Would love to hear your stories. I’m really intrigued by the process!

[Image: Worm composting farm.]