The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Health wants to advise researchers on how to prepare internationally competitive and high-quality research plans. Each year during the peer review process, the research plans included in the funding applications fall under the same criticism concerning three key points: content, presentation and structure. The research environments presented in the plans are often very strong, the applicants have solid scientific competence and the Finnish datasets (registers and cohorts) are world-class. In spite of these advantages, many applications still fail to achieve success in the competition for funding. This is due to poor presentation, overly extensive projects and inadequate justifications. Below is a list of a few practical guidelines compiled by the Research Council for Health.
Presentation and structure
- The research plan must provide answers to all review questions easily and quickly, following the recommended structure and headings.
- Figures, tables, illustrations and other highlights make it easier to grasp whole concepts.
- When providing background information, briefly describe the significance and goals of the research topic in relation to current knowledge, and briefly describe links to the researcher’s/team’s previous and other research. It is often a good idea to account for ongoing studies or analyses that support and lay the ground for the application.
- Be sufficiently elaborate in describing the research methods, and justify why the chosen methods are best suited for the project.
- If required by the research frame, present statistical analyses and power calculations in particular to a sufficient level of detail. Also describe the processing, management and analysis of research data.
- The proposed project must be a clearly outlined and uniform whole that can be implemented during the set funding period (outlining a schedule supports project management).
- In applications concerning large-scale research projects, clearly describe to which project component the application applies, which components have already been funded and completed as well as what are the tasks of each project member or partner.
- International collaborations (incl. the mobility plan) must be research-driven, and well justified from a research perspective.
- Remember to identify any anticipated research-related problems. If the primary implementation method proves unsuccessful, account for alternative methods. Presenting convincing preliminary findings adds a significant amount of credibility to the research plan.
- Be clear in your description of the research environment and the available research infrastructure.
- Early-career researchers should demonstrate their future or current independent status as well as their own line of research that they are pursuing.
- Finnish datasets (registers and cohorts) should not be seen as having intrinsic value. Instead, the data should be utilised with due consideration, and with innovative and significant research questions.
- Cleary describe the impact of the expected results.