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Make a strong application

Take our advice

Read our advice on how to plan and develop your research application, and the support available to you.

Consider your research question

For all NIHR research programmes (except our Evidence Synthesis Programme), the key issue is not the study design but the question.

The question needs to be relevant, clearly defined in simple terms, and in remit for the research programme.  It should ideally be in one sentence.

In addition, the potential benefit to the target patient population, public group and/or the NHS should be clear.

You should also consider whether the research will still be relevant by the time it is completed, and whether it is already being answered by ongoing research elsewhere.

Ensure your application meets our assessment criteria

We assess research applications on the basis whether they address an important and enduring research gap identified by evidence users, as well as whether they are scientifically sound.

Find out more about how we assess applications in our guidance on our general assessment criteria.

In addition, each individual funding opportunity will have specific criteria. We recommend that you read thoroughly the scope/commissioning brief/research specification, applicant guidance and supporting information attached to each funding opportunity before applying.

If you would like tailored advice, you can directly contact the research programme you are interested in.

Involve patients, carers and the public

Involving members of the public in designing your research can improve its quality and relevance. Good public involvement can lead to better designed research and improve participant recruitment.

Read our advice on how to involve patients, carers and the public in research.

How you’ve involved patients, carers and the public will be assessed when your research application is reviewed by our prioritisation and funding committees. In addition, the Health Research Authority will review how you’ve involved and engaged with members of the public when it assesses your research for ethics approval.

Read the Health Research Authority’s advice on questions to ask about your public involvement.

The UK Standards for Public Involvement might be a good place to start when thinking about involving patients, carers and the public. They are a description of what good public involvement looks like and encourage approaches and behaviours that are the hallmark of good public involvement such as flexibility, sharing and learning and respect for each other

Find out more about the UK Standards for Public Involvement.

We ask that research applications include a plain English summary of the research project, to ensure that the research intention is clear for people outside the specialty reviewing the application.

Find out how to write a good quality plain English summary

Involving the public in research costs money. Our guidance on payments and budgeting gives advice on how to cost for patient and public involvement at every stage of the research planning cycle, including putting together an application.

Read our guidance on payments for public contributors and budgeting for involvement.

How you involve people will depend on the nature of your research, as well as the different activities people decide they would like to get involved in. NIHR has produced a framework for considering who might be involved in research, and taking into account different experiences.

Learn more about our framework for considering who might be involved in research.

When considering how and who to involve, you should consider how to make involvement opportunities inclusive.

Find out more about being inclusive in public involvement in health research.

Get methodology advice

We advise that researchers consider whether the study design they’re proposing is right for the research question. Consider novel and efficient study designs. You should also be able to justify your sample size and outcome measures.

The NIHR Research Design Service supports researchers to develop and design high quality research proposals for submission to NIHR funding programmes. The experts in the RDS can help you to formulate your idea into a research question.

Contact your local RDS office to speak to an advisor.

Seek advice on how to run your study

The NIHR Study Support Service can help you plan, set up and deliver your research to time and target in the NHS, as well as advise on running research in public health and social care settings.

The early contact and engagement element of the service can advise on whether your study is eligible for delivery support from the NIHR Clinical Research Network, as well as offer information on attribution of costs, recruitment pathways and other aspects of study delivery.

Get in touch with the Early Contact and Engagement Service.

Develop your research team


Does your research team have the appropriate expertise including project management, patient and public involvement, statistics, academics, health economics and clinical or subject (where applicable)? Are research staff of the appropriate level/grade for their role?

You may wish to consider partnering or collaborating with the life sciences industry or charities.

Some of our research programmes support collaborating with researchers outside of England. Ascertain whether your study can include international work.


Consider whether your research might generate intellectual property

NIHR-funded research can generate intellectual property in a wide range of forms, including know-how, data sets, copyright, trademarks and patents.

We work with researchers to ensure that the intellectual property generated from NIHR funding is secured within an appropriate legal and contractual environment. This ensures that the NIHR, NHS and broader public sector have the best chance of realising benefits and achieving impact from the research that we fund.

Read more about our approach to intellectual property

Seek regulatory approval

If your study is led from England or Wales, and involves the NHS in England and /or Wales, you need Health Research Authority (HRA) and Health and Care Research Wales(HCRW) Approval, and to ensure that it is registered.

Find out more about regulatory approval and registration.

Plan for impact

Who is the end user of the research and how will you reach them?  How will this research change practice? We must be able to easily understand the potential benefit to the target population, patient/public group and/or NHS.

Read our advice on planning for impact.

Present your application clearly

Is your application well presented, concise and clear? Use visible headings, white space and flow diagrams. Make sure it tells the story for non-specialist readers, and leave time to proofread it thoroughly.

Plan costs

Costs and staff time commitments should be realistic and clearly justified.