Strategies for a Successful Grant Proposal: Part Four

Robert Cvitkovic, Tokai University; Max Praver, Meijo University

Previously on Grant Writing Strategies

In the last three articles, we covered a lot of ground. We started with the importance of having a good research idea and learned how it will be evaluated. We then moved on to planning a typical three-year proposal and deciding whether or not to work in a team. In the third installment, we dove into dozens of dos and don’ts along with sentence stems, which are open-ended sentence starters that can help get you thinking about the specifics of your proposal. In this final installment, we cover the budget and shed some light on the nuances of spending potential funding.


The budget is why you are applying for funding. In a way, it is the sole purpose of this grant writing process. If you could do the research without the funding, you wouldn’t need to do all the paperwork, and you could just get down to research. However, at a minimum, international conferences are not inexpensive, and chances are you need some equipment or service to advance your research. Before we talk about budget, let’s get a few things out of the way.

There will be lots of paperwork after the proposal has been accepted, and most of the instructions will be in Japanese. So, you may need help with figuring out what to do. Once you understand what is required, most of the time you can fill in the form in English. However, sometimes it needs to be in Japanese, so administration staff can evaluate it. So, be sure to check with your support staff first (more on support staff below).

Next, we hear both Japanese natives and non-natives complain about the amount of paperwork involved with grant funding. Honestly, if the government is going to give you tax payers’ money to explore and discover new vistas of knowledge, a bit of paperwork and transparency is expected, so you are just going to have to accept this responsibility.

There have been many positive changes to the way funds can be used recently, so it is important to review these changes. You should talk to the dedicated staff at your institution for details. However, the highlights of the most recent and useful changes are as follows. Funding can be carried forward or back a year. In both cases, some straightforward paperwork needs to be filled out. To reach into the future year and bring funding into the current time frame, you just need to stipulate which year you would like to draw from and how much.

There are two times a year when this can be done, once around the summertime and once in the fall. Please check with your support staff for specific deadlines. This ability to move money around has been introduced recently, and should not be overlooked. These new rules are especially useful if you are making good progress and would like to purchase equipment or items in the current year instead of having to wait up to 12 months because the next year’s budget has not kicked in yet. The total amount of funding does not change, so there will be less money in the next year. However, accelerating a project is often well worth it.

The opposite is also possible. Often, it is difficult to spend exactly the amount allocated for any fiscal year. When this is the case, the money remaining can be carried into the next year, as long it is not the last year of the project. This eliminates wasteful last-minute spending and improves the efficiency of the system.

It is important to understand some basic terminology of the budget system. In 2001, indirect funding was introduced into the system, which means funding can be broken down into direct and indirect funds. Direct funds are sums you get for the project, and indirect funds are generally used for administration purposes which go to your institute. However, sometimes your institute may give you a portion of this back.

The maximum allowable limit for a Category C (general) grant is 5,000,000 Japanese yen (JPY). However, that does not mean you will ever receive that much money. The most you can expect to receive for a category C, over a typical 3-year project, is about 3.6 million JPY. Let’s break it down. Scenario #1: You sit down and sketch out all the equipment costs, conference fees and expenditures for a three-year research project, and you come to the total 4,800,000 (approx. $48,000) to complete the project. Great! This is just under the 5-million JPY limit for category C, so you apply. Your proposal passes, and April 1st you hear that you got 3.37 million + 86,000 JPY. You accept the grant, but you wonder what happened. You are 1.344 million short and start thinking about what part of the project you can cut and where to trim. Let’s step back and reverse engineer this budget and find out where that shortfall went.

Let’s work through the hypothetical example where you ask for 4.8 million JPY. We start with the reality that you will never get 100% of your budget request. Ten percent or more will be cut outright during the screening process by the panel of judges. Initially, a 10% initial reduction from 4.8 million becomes 4.32 million JPY (a loss of 480,000, or about 5,000 USD). Of that, the school gets about 22% for administration overhead, so you are left with approximately 3.37 million JPY. But, the school may give you back 0-15% of the indirect funds. Yes, just let that sink in. They will take about 22% and then give you up to about 15% back from the portion they took. It’s kind of weird, but that how it works. Let’s say they give you 9% of their 950,000 JPY take. That gives you about 86,000 JPY in indirect funds to add to your 3.37 million.

Now, the reason I am not going to say the total is the combination of the two values, which is 3.456 million, is because direct funds and indirect funds cannot be combined for purchases; the types of purchases you can make with each are different. So, asking for 4.8 million leaves you with 3.37 million in direct funds + 86,000 JPY in indirect funds for a shortfall of 28% or 1.344 million (approx. 13 thousand USD). That is not including the losses from overhead and markup that your school purchasing department may charge you on equipment or other goods and services.

The point to remember is that you should only plan for about a maximum of 3.6 million across the life of your research project. Use the following in your overall calculations.

(Funds needed) / (0.72) = funds to request, or

(Funds needed) * (1.39) = funds to request (it’s the same calculation)


If you need 3.50 million JPY then ask for 3.50 / 0.72 (roughly 4.86 million)

If you need 2.20 million JPY then ask for 2.20 * 1.39 (roughly 3.06 million)

So, even though the maximum funding from a Category C grant is 5 million JPY, the maximum you are likely to actually get is about 5.0 * 0.72 , or about 3.60 million JPY over the life of the project. If you need more funding and think you have a stellar team with stellar credentials, then you can always apply for the next higher category, Category B, for up to 20,000,000 JPY (approx. 200,000 USD), or Category A, for up to 50 million JPT (about half a million USD).

Getting Along with the Support Staff at Your Institute

You will undoubtedly need to contact your support staff and stay in touch with them throughout the funding process, which includes after your grant proposal gets accepted. There will be periods throughout the year when you will be contacting them quite a bit about annual reports, purchasing questions, or other grant-related issues.

Everything must go through their office. They act as the gatekeepers for the government, mostly to protect you from yourself and your ignorance of the system. They check that you meet deadlines, that you are submitting the proper forms, and most of all that you are not breaking any grant rules or purchasing protocols that can land you in hot water. They know the rules, so ask them questions whenever you are in doubt about a particular procedure. We like to start by telling them what we want to do, and then asking them what are the specific steps to take in order to get it done. That way you won’t be surprised when you need to fill out three different forms for some small procedural point.

For example, say you want to reach into the following year and use money that was originally allocated for the future. As mentioned above, you can do that. You can also move unused money from your current year into the next year, assuming it is not your final year. They can help you with that. There are specific times of the year to do that and special paperwork that needs to be filled out. That is what support staff are there for. They are there to help you get your research paperwork completed smoothly and as painlessly as possible, so that you can focus on the research and not have to figure out what form to fill out. They will tell you if you ask.

So, the general rule is to be extremely polite and considerate to your support staff. They are working hard for you and deserve your respect. No matter how frustrated you may get with what may seem like endless paperwork, never ever take it out on the support staff. If you do, you will regret it the next time you need something from them, which is usually sooner than you might think.

Miscellaneous Budgetary Issues and Tips

There are a number of very important budget details to consider. We will mention a few here, but you need to realize this list is not comprehensive. Please check with your support staff and the helpful documents listed in the reference section. The grant funding agency understands that research is always in flux, and it is hard to predict expenditures three years out or more. Hence, the flexibility it allows with spending. Yet, you should consider the following:

Be specific when listing your conferences, if possible. Indicate how many people will be going, the name of the conference and the city.

Conference participation fees should be listed in a different category which is separate from the conference transportation fees category.

Check with your administration staff beforehand to determine the correct category for software, services, and hardware. Also, hardware over a certain amount is a special category.

List computers according to their functions, not just as computers; call them data acquisition stations, video processing workstations, or servers, instead. Your home institute is expected to supply you with basic infrastructural equipment such as a computer, printers, pens, and paper. If you need a new computer, explain why it is necessary for the success of your research and not just a personal desire. Be sure to tie everything back to being critical for the success of the project.

Now, this next point is a sensitive subject. Sharp readers will have noticed during the budget calculation where we alluded to it, but we will explicitly discuss it here since it is such an important topic. The reality is you can lose between 20-30% of your initial budget request, and if you do not take this into account, you may not have enough to complete your research as planned. The majority of apparent cuts are actually redirected into indirect fees for administrative overhead, but cuts also may comprise straightforward reductions. Whatever the reasons, it will feel like a punch in the gut from your perspective. Therefore, you will need to: a) add a few items and expect not to get them, b) list the cost of items on the high side, or c) ask for multiples of an item and expect you will get fewer than originally planned. If you know you need 3 million JPY to do a project successfully, and if you ask for 3 million, be prepared to receive only 2.2 million. Then figure out where you can cut back, or you can strategically accommodate cuts that are likely to come.

It is useful to prepare a spreadsheet that parallels the budget format on the application form and takes into account the slightly different version in the web system. Familiarize yourself with the categories and what goes in each column. Then break it down by project year. For example, a major difference between the paper application and the online system is that travel expenses are combined in the online system, whereas they need to be separated into domestic and international categories on paper. You will also need yearly totals and category totals. Setting this up in a separate spreadsheet, previewing, and adjusting expenses will save you a lot of time and frustration when it comes to transferring this information into the system. A screenshot of the online budget screen is shown in Figure 1.

As of last year, the feedback screen has been radically simplified; however, we are showing the old version to give you a comprehensive overview of the issues that you will need to consider when you write your proposal. The categories are still the same, and many judges will still be familiar with the old system and may be unconsciously using it even with the new rating system. Remember the five major categories: 1) Academic validity and importance of research, 2) Validity of research plan and methodology, 3) Originality and innovation of research, 4) Universality and applicability of research, 5) Ability/skill of researchers is adequate and research environment is appropriate. For a comprehensive discussion of these major grading criteria, please see Part One of this article series. The numbers in Table 1 refer to the major grading criteria, and the letters refer to sub-categories for each. Once you’ve gone through your budget and proposal thoroughly, you may want to ask a trusted colleague to use this evaluation chart as a basis for critical feedback.

Table 1. Detailed sub-category feedback and grading criteria


Whether or not it is academically important


Whether the research structure and details were enough


Whether the budget is appropriate for research


In order to achieve research goals, whether research plan was carefully thought through


From standpoint of accomplishing the plan; whether considered alternate plans carefully enough


Whether time frame was appropriate


Whether allocation of funds was appropriate


Whether primary investigator responsibilities are suitable and appropriate to details of project


Appropriateness for public funds:

a) to simply purchase off-the-shelf equipment
b) a plan to use funds with other funds to purchase a large piece of equipment
c) for purpose of business or employing personnel
d) for purpose of personal gain or business


Whether innovation and originality are brought about by research target and method


Whether research would contribute to advancement of your research field


Whether research will impact or have a positive effect on society, business or business community at large


Whether you have ability to complete research based on previous research results and academic publications


Whether research group as a whole has ability, and roles members play are suitable


Whether research environment such as facilities, equipment and materials are adequate


Having your first grant proposal accepted is an exciting, exhilarating moment in your research career. A group of your peers has deemed your idea credible enough to allocate millions of yen towards your research. You can now embark on a process of discovery, uncovering hidden truths about human beings, society, and nature. If you wish to get the official version of what scientific research is from the governing body allocating funds, then all you have to do is read the first few pages of the official Kakenhi: Creating New Knowledge handbook.

Broadly speaking, scientific research is all intellectual work that aims to uncover truth hidden in human beings, society and nature. An intrinsic characteristic of scientific research is a rigorous and systematic inquiry into principles and knowledge, in a free and responsible way, based on the ideas of the researcher. Through scientific research, knowledge supporting the welfare of mankind (i.e., dignified happiness and prosperity based on a stable life and social environment) is accumulated, and a cultural infrastructure is formed. Scientific research based on this is indispensable for further scientific progress and technological development. (MEXT & JSPS, 2016, p. 3)

You may shrug off the above statement as just a flowery introduction in a government manual that does not need to be taken seriously, or as a weird translation of Japanese that again does not really hold any weight. However, we politely disagree. If you are passionate about your research and continue to strive for excellence, then it will show in your proposals and the work that you do, and it will only be a matter of time before you will be counted as a grant recipient. It is really no big deal, but it does feel that way when you get your first one.

We have left out details that we felt are readily available in other well-prepared documents that your support staff will undoubtedly have. It is impossible to cover every issue that may arise, but we hope that we have covered enough to get you started to write a successful proposal on your first try. If you are serious about the grant writing process, we recommend that you review English documents available on the grant website ( They contain many useful charts and tables covering the entire system. They also provide valuable insights into the two-tiered screening process, the annual reports you are expected to complete, and much more. Finally, get an early start, preferably at the beginning of summer in July or August, so when the late October deadline rolls around you will be ready with a well-written proposal that you have developed  carefully.

Applying for a grant may seem like a daunting challenge at first, but once you receive funding, it can become an exciting period in your career. You will be on the forefront of knowledge, and expanding the frontiers of human understanding. We hope that you have learned a few strategies and techniques that will aid in the unending quest for new understanding, knowledge, and learning for the betterment of humankind and the world.


Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [JSPS]. (2016). Electronic application system for projects funded by grants-in-aid for scientific research. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], & Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [JSPS]. (2016). Kakenhi: Grants-in-aid for scientific research - creating new knowledge. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], & Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [JSPS]. (2017). Handbook on the grants-in-aid for scientific research (KAKENHI) program: How to make more effective use of the program (for researchers). Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], & Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [JSPS]. (2017). Kakenhi: Grants-in-aid for scientific research - creating new knowledge. Retrieved from

Bob Cvitkovic has been on six JSPS grants since 2009, acting as both principal investigator and co-investigator. He has a Master’s degree in Materials Engineering from the University of Alberta and another in TESOL from Temple University, Japan. His research interests lie in measuring the effectiveness of English educational apps through instructional efficiency, in-game metrics, and learning outcomes.

Max Praver is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Meijo University. He holds a Master of Science and a Doctoral degree in Education from Temple University, Japan. His research interests lie in teacher self-efficacy, motivation, and technology enhanced learning.