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First steps: idea to application

An idea for a research project can strike at any time - but people often get stuck at the "what to do next" stage. The following points are put together from comments and talks by funders and researchers; with links to some useful presentations at the bottom of the page.

What to do first

  • You will need to do a literature (background) search to find out what other research has been done in similar areas, or if the idea is for a new product/device, to find out what is already available. The library (Level 5, Education and Research Centre) can provide training on literature searching, and can also conduct searches for you.
  • Talk to colleagues about your idea - do they think it's worth doing?
  • You can also talk to patients (and or friends/family) informally about your idea - do they think it's worth doing? Patient and public involvement is needed for grant applications, and will need to be developed more as your application progresses.
  • Think about who you can collaborate with - if you are inexperienced in research, you will need to collaborate with more experienced people - these may be within or outside of UH Bristol. One of our experienced consultants advises potential new researchers to "lash yourself to the mast of a successful research ship".
  • Write down your ideas. Help is available, but if you want to be successful in research you will need to learn the skill of writing good applications
  • Think about who you will need to involve, and what you will need (funding, equipment)
  • If your idea is for a new device/product, do not talk to any commercial companies without first discussing with the Research & Innovation team (the company and you will have to sign non-disclosure agreements before discussions can take place). Contact 

Things to be aware of

  • It takes time to develop a good application, and only the very best get funded
  • You will need the right team in order to carry out any research; this is one of the key things funders look for.
  • Start small; there are local funding schemes available that allow you to undertake preliminary or feasibility work, or to backfill clinical time.
  • If you have an idea for a larger (and expensive) study, you will need to talk to experienced colleagues and get their help and advice - be aware that they may need to be the named Principal Investigator on large applications.
  • People who succeed are those who take time to prepare the application, get the right people involved (relevant expertise) and have regular team meetings to discuss the project. You should not be the only person to have seen your idea before applying for funding.

Support and Advice

Talk to colleagues and the clinical teams in your department. You will need their support in order to carry out any research. Information on methodological support in developing NIHR and some other applications is given on the preparing your funding application page. Contact the UH Bristol Research Grants Manager if you'd like to discuss your idea and how to proceed: You may find it useful to use the following form as guidance for the type of things you need to consider, and to start writing down your ideas. Available here.

Library and Information Services and  Connect page

  • The librarians offer critical appraisal skills training, workshops and tools. These help you find and check research for trustworthiness, results & relevance.
  • The library team could support all stages of the research life cycle such as finding legislative information at beginning to helping researchers decided which appropriate journal to publish to.
  • Information retrieval, books, journal articles, grey literature etc. If you have a question/query/information need we'll find the answer!

Links to presentations on grant funding

Alan Bundy, University of Edinburgh:

And how not to...