Tips on Applying for an Applied Grant | Organization for Autism Research

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OAR is committed to funding research that can benefit individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families, and has sponsored an Applied Research Grant competition since 2002. The Applied Research Grant competition consists of three phases:

  • Phase I involves submission and evaluation of pre-proposals.
  • Phase II involves submission and evaluation of full proposals invited for review.
  • Phase III involves final review by the Scientific Council of OAR.

The Applied Research Competition is highly competitive. As a result, the bar is set higher and higher each year. The goal of this article is to outline brief recommendations and provide tips on how to write a successful proposal.

Read the Request for Proposals (RFP) Carefully and Respond to it Fully

Applicants are advised to read OAR’s RFP carefully in order to ensure that their proposed research question falls within the scope of research funded by OAR. To help make that determination, the OAR Web site provides an updated list and short description of previously funded research that may be useful for applicants to review. The RFP requires that specific information and detail be included in the research proposal, such as a clearly articulated plan for participant inclusion, measurement, and data analysis. There are also formatting and administrative requirements that warrant close attention, along with budgetary restrictions. Even though OAR does not require a budget for the initial application, the principal investigator should read OAR’s Funding Guidelines before submitting any pre-proposal or full proposal.

Identify the Innovation and Potential Unique Contribution Clearly

One goal of OAR’s Applied Research Program is to support innovation in applied science. The most successful applications are those that clearly identify the innovation and potentially unique contributions that the findings of the proposed study may offer within the context of what is already established and known in the field. Innovation may take various forms, such as applying technology or intervention methods from one field to another, contrasting teaching methods, or exploring the potential of a truly novel approach to solve a problem. Regardless of the form taken, the applicant should clearly review and outline current and relevant knowledge within the field and subsequently identify what is unique about the particular research question of interest.

Align Research Questions with Measurement, Design, and Analysis

Of course, the research plan is evaluated in detail during the review process. Historically, the stronger proposals have clearly specified research questions and align the measurement strategy with domains and constructs of interest. With respect to the proposed design, it should be described in detail and allow for research questions to be adequately evaluated. An applicant should be able to look at the proposed design and know with certainty that it is the most effective way to answer his or her research question.

If causal inference is the goal of the research, group or single subject designs may be adequate for this purpose, and both designs have been funded by OAR. If the proposal utilizes group design, supplementing the statistical analysis with a power analysis strengthens the proposal; if the research plan features a single subject design, specific procedures for conducting a visual analysis should be included in the proposal.

Highlight the Potential Applied Utility of the Research

The OAR RFP is unique from those of other granting agencies in that each proposal is expected to highlight explicitly the potential application of research findings to practice. In other words, does the study have the potential to produce meaningful outcomes? Final grant decisions often come down to this key question. During the review process, the discussions regarding the application and utility of the research are common. Proposals that describe the potential application well fare better than those that provide only general commentary.

Demonstrate that the Research Team has Appropriate Expertise

Finally, successful proposals are those that demonstrate that the assembled research team has the appropriate background and expertise to implement the research plan as described. In many cases, complementary expertise is needed for a proposal, and may require collaboration between methodologists, content experts, and those with statistical expertise in order to be most effective. All successful proposals clearly indicated that the researchers have the skills necessary to execute the research plan and appropriately evaluate outcomes.


Jonathan M. Campbell, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He serves as co-director of the Clinic for Autism Spectrum Evaluation and Research (CASPER) at the University of Kentucky. He has conducted research in the area of peers’ knowledge of and attitudes towards students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in inclusive education settings. Dr. Campbell serves as a member of OAR’s Scientific Council and has reviewed applied research grants for several years.


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