The constraints of fact
Close your eyes and indulge in a cliché with us…
Picture the sun setting through the pink tint of a wine glass as you soak in the fresh smell of the late-summer Med. You are a bit-part in a Fellini movie; playing the celebrated novelist without a care in the world. It is la dolce vita. Publishers and publicists in Panama hats seek your company at the cocktail bar. Rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb is your white-noise. Everything, from drapes to tassles and scarves are always floating slightly in a breeze. Watch Brigitte Bardot ski past behind a bespoke Riva yacht. Oh, to get paid to write…
Back here in the real world, academic writing is, shall one say ‘marginally’ less glamorous.
Academic conference and symposium organisers may try to attract higher interest and attendance through selecting exotic locations, and your faculty might have budget for you to attend a couple of these each year. But to find a sustainable level of financial support for academic writing so that it can even start feeling like anything but hard labour, the best route is to apply for an academic publication grant.
What is an academic publication grant?
An academic grant is intended to enable graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and career academic researchers to proceed to the publication of their work. Reviewing a variety of funding agencies and publishers operant in the humanities, the naming of the grant is often quite the obvious place to start to determine the rationale for such support.
There appear to be two major drivers for grant-making, rather than a pure altruistic objective of supporting ‘those poor academics.’
- There is significant benefit an institution (NGO, University, Government or Foundation) may derive either from the research or from the prestige of being associated with the research, researcher or research institution. In a cynical world, early data on Corporate Social Investment, for instance, indicated that for every $100 spent on a cause, $140 was spent on telling the world about it.
- There is the ability to influence the direction of research and exercise power in new cultural capital formation, much like Bourdieu argued. This would explain the frequent availability of grants with foreign countries’ names or agencies associated. In this manner, academic writing grants may be highly ideological.
Hence, in the academic grant funding world, it appears that, here too, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Tip: Is it even necessary to warn of the risks of being forever associated with a particular stance once you accept a grant with ideological baggage?
Who should you target?
Your primary objective is to find a good match between your research question and overall research agenda with the interests of the funding agencies you are approaching, including the sub-areas for which programme managers are responsible.
Whether you are targeting government grants, institutional funds from NGOs or Foundations, or are in touch with corporate Research and Development programmes, the first hurdle to cross is this alignment of interests.
It is one of the ironies of pursuing grants that, in the attempt to gain the financial support to focus more time on your research, you will first have to engage in a time-consuming research process on the academic publication grant universe itself.
The American Psychological Association advises researchers to look for government grant-writing training and development workshops and aides. Start by speaking to your mentors and peers for advice on the most useful sources of information pertinent to your common research.
Cast your net narrowly. The ocean of grants is too wide to navigate and, as warned above, full of sharks and other predators. Produce a manageable list of reputable agencies and grants you will target, and then rather spend your time on writing some killer proposals.
Tip: Register for alerts. As you narrow your search, make sure to sign up for alerts of any new grants announced within the narrow scope of your work.
How to prepare an academic writing grant
It starts with a vision. Imagine what your research can mean to a community or organisation. Assuming that by now you have identified which agencies and grants you will be targeting, the challenge is to paint an exciting picture of the impact your work may have.
The next step is the roadmap, found in the grant application submission guidelines. Just stick to them. Nothing is gained and everything could be lost by trying to differentiate yourself by breaking these rules.
Before you even put pen to paper for that first “Dear…”, scour – physically or virtually – your faculty archives or university library for examples of successful grant applications, and the publicly available records of past grant proposals that were awarded funding by your targeted institution. In other words, get to know what works. The bolder among us may have the daring to contact past grant awardees for an informational interview.
Finally, for once, you might be able to take more of an advocacy and creative tone in your writing. You are trying to appeal to an agency with strong enough sentiments around a cause that it has put money into it. They need to know that you stand with them. If you find this approach difficult, consider a writing workshop or programme.
TIP: There is a growing number of funding agencies in virtually every country of the world who will allow grant-seekers to include the Article Processing Charges (APCs) associated with open access journal publishing in the grant proposal.
Your Publishing Partner
Bear in mind that the final output you produce will go into publication. Hence, it should follow logically that if you have a good relationship with a reputable publisher, they should be an invaluable source of advice as they have been an integral part of this process with many other authors.
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