Betty S. Lai on The Grant Writing Guide

Betty S. Lai on The Grant Writing Guide

Grant funding can be a major determinant of promotion and tenure at colleges and universities, yet many scholars receive no training in the crucial skill of grant writing. The Grant Writing Guide is an essential handbook for writing research grants, providing actionable strategies for professionals in every phase of their careers, from PhD students to seasoned researchers.

This easy-to-use guide features writing samples, examples of how researchers use skills, helpful tips, and exercises. Drawing on interviews with scores of grant writers, program officers, researchers, administrators, and writers, it lays out best practices, common questions, and pitfalls to avoid. Betty Lai focuses on skills that are universal to all grant writers, not just specific skills for one type of grant or funder. She explains how to craft phenomenal pitches and align them with your values, structure timelines and drafts, communicate clearly in prose and images, solicit feedback to strengthen your proposals, and much more.


Why did you write this book?

BSL: Grant writing is a skill that can help scholars get support for incredible ideas, but many scholars do not have access to grant writing training. I wrote this book because I believe “insiders” and “outsiders” shouldn’t exist in grant writing. We need to hear and support our best ideas, not the most privileged ideas. That means making sure that anyone who wants to learn about grant writing can do so.

What do you wish scholars knew about grant writing?

BSL: Many scholars believe that grant writing is just about money. But I interviewed scores of experts for The Grant Writing Guide, and over and over, scholars told me that grants meant much more to them: the freedom to pursue ideas they cared about, attention for their work, the chance to support trainees, time to think deeply, and opportunities to stay on the cutting edge of their fields.

Who is this book for?

BSL: This book is intended for any scholar that wants to learn how to write fundable grants. I walk readers through all steps of the grant writing process, from how to develop an idea, how to target a funder, and how to draft your full grant. I provide examples and exercises, and share stories of how scholars have used skills to gain support for their work.

Why did you choose to focus on universal grant writing skills instead of specific skills for one type of grant or funder?

BSL: My book is about career choice and freedom. I demonstrate which aspects of grant writing are universal so that scholars can use grants to move their careers in directions they care about. When you learn universal grant writing skills, you understand how to evaluate which funders may be interested in your ideas. You can consider what ideas you care about and develop grants from there. If you only learn how to write a specific type of grant (e.g., for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation), you can get locked into generating ideas based solely on what the funder cares about.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

BSL: I hope readers walk away understanding that grant writing is just a skill. This means that with hard work, you can develop this skill, and you can get support for your incredible ideas. You just need to be willing to try.


Betty S. Lai is an associate professor at Boston College. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, among others. Her work has been recognized with awards from the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Foundation. Twitter @BettySLai