Writing a Horizon Europe proposal can be a daunting task. The competition for grants is fierce, and with applications typically around 45 pages long, applicants must invest significant time and resources to deliver a high-quality proposal. Here, we provide expert advice to help you avoid common mistakes made in EU funding applications.
1. Not reading the guidelines
This may seem obvious, but your proposal must fit the competition scope AND the work programme destination (if applicable). If the evaluators don’t think the project is in scope, it will be ineligible and may not even be assessed. Therefore, you should always read the guidelines thoroughly before starting an application to ensure you don’t waste time and effort on something that isn’t a good fit.
If you are in any doubt, it is worth checking with your National Contact Point (NCP). You can find details of your NCP via the Funding and Tenders Portal.
Tip: Refer to the expected impacts of the work programme and the destination in your proposal to show the evaluators how it is a good fit.
2. Lack of preparation
Preparation is a key part of writing successful grant applications. Horizon Europe applications are typically around 45 pages, so it is important that you give yourself plenty of time to write the proposal. If you don’t have enough time to develop a competitive application, consider sitting this grant out and waiting for the next opportunity.
Tip: Start much earlier than you think you need to! We would recommend allocating at least 3 months from beginning to end. This time might be condensed if you can allocate dedicated staff to writing the proposal, or if you outsource to a professional bid-writing agency.
3. The objectives of the proposal aren’t clear
A common proposal writing mistake is to include over-ambitious or vague objectives. To avoid the evaluators being unclear or unconvinced by your proposal, it is vital that you clearly detail the project’s objectives. They should demonstrate that the proposed work is ambitious and goes beyond the state-of-the-art.
Tip: Set SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) and present them in a table to aid readability.
4. Problems with the team
For most calls for proposals, you will be expected to apply as a team of at least three partner organisations from different countries. It is important that you don’t just apply with your friends; instead, focus on forming a well-balanced group with the necessary skills and expertise to deliver a collaborative project.
Some calls allow individual organisations to apply for funding (e.g., the EIC Accelerator or Coordination and Support Actions). Where this is the case, ask yourself the following questions: i) do you have the in-house skills to achieve what you are setting out to do? and ii) based on your track record, are you able to convince the evaluators that you can deliver the project?
If you answered no to one or both questions, you may want to consider working with a partner whose skillset and experience complements your own. This won’t go against you – in fact, it will strengthen your application!
Tip: Ensure that there is a good fit between the project objectives and the expertise of the participants.
5. Problems with the budget
Budgets are a vital part of any grant proposal. However, problems can arise if the budget is too small or too large e.g., if it exceeds limits or is not enough to fund the number of partners involved in the project. It is important that all partners are aware of the grant amount ceiling, so they can construct their workplans in line with the money available.
Tip: Ensure your budget offers value for money as the evaluators will be able to tell if it is reasonable for your project.
6. The proposal is difficult to read
The evaluators will have numerous applications to assess at a time, so it’s important that you make yours as easy to read as possible. In terms of layout, you should use subheadings and bullet points to make your proposal easy to follow. It is also important to ensure the evaluators can understand your project, for example by avoiding jargon and introducing all acronyms at their first use. Lastly, don’t forget to set time aside after drafting your proposal to proofread your answers. This is your final chance to find and fix errors before submitting your proposal!
Tip: Keep it simple! A good proposal is easy to read and follow. You should also make use of infographics and images to make your proposal stand out from the competition.
7. Not making the most of Part A
Although Part A isn’t scored, it is important that you do not overlook this section of the proposal. You should take the time to craft a compelling abstract that provides the reader with a clear understanding of the objectives of the proposal, how they will be achieved, and their relevance to the work programme. This is typically the first thing that evaluators read, so it is your chance to make a good first impression.
Tip: Make sure you take the time to allocate specific keywords in the proposal template. These will help the European Commission to select appropriate expert evaluators whose expertise best matches your proposal.