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Why Research Grants are More Accessible than Ever

Want to write a book but feel like you don't fit the funding mould? Find out how diverse and underserved subjects can be awarded $5000.


Preconceptions don’t often do anyone justice.

Be it the stereotyping of people or cultures, presumptions of processes or intentions - if you’re not open to learning more than what you assume, then you’re not going to get the full picture.

Like any good book, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. 

But Paula Browning knows full well that what’s on the cover matters too. As Chief Executive of Copyright Licensing New Zealand, she sees this time and time again.

With applications open for the 2021 Copyright Licensing New Zealand/ New Zealand Society of Authors Research Grants (through until 11 June), Browning admits there could be a preconception over who - or what - a winning applicant is likely to be.

But it’s a stereotype the two organisations are determined to break.

“We take that on the chin,” explains Browning. “If you only look at only who has been funded previously, that wouldn't give you an indication of what the actual selection criteria is, of its openness and broadness.”

The four $5000 Research Grants come out of the CLNZ Cultural Fund, which is reviewed annually. Browning says of the most recent review, “we took advice from last year’s selection panel that they thought we needed to be more overt about who can apply and what they can apply for.

“The entire publishing industry is having some - to be frank - confronting and interesting conversations about diversity in the industry and the stories that are told.  We wanted to make sure we are making a step in the right direction towards people being able to see that their particular projects or what it is they write about who they are, can be reflected in the criteria for these grants.”

Fostering diverse stories

To achieve this - one of the four grants has been ring-fenced for a diverse project or a topic coming from an underserved area of writing. The other three grants will be open to a broader range of projects, but will also have criteria about a wider look at culture and diversity.

But even with the best intentions, CLNZ and NZSA can’t achieve this alone - the ability to help a more diverse group of writers tell their stories is wholly reliant on those writers taking the first step.

“The selection panel can only make decisions on applications that come forward. This step (before judging) is probably the most important - if people aren’t applying for contemporary and diverse work, then the selection panel doesn’t have much they can do. 

‘I’m really hopeful that people who have looked at the grants previously and thought ‘that’s not for me’ will look at that differently this year.”

2020 CLNZ/NZSA Research Grant recipients (clockwise from top left) Fraser Smith, Elizabeth Cox, Wystan Kurnow and Vasanti Unka. 

Facts about fiction

Another preconception that needs to be broken down is the notion these grants are purely the domain of nonfiction. Browning points out that fiction projects have always been invited - but it’s rare they receive applications.  

“People often see intense research as being about fact-finding. It can be about looking at what is contemporary, even to inform a fiction work - where there will be traces or themes that will be based in the real world. An understanding of that before writing fiction is also important.”

The same goes for subject matter. 

While many of the books supported in recent years could just as easily have been awarded grants 15-20 years ago, the way the world has evolved in the past 12 months has given rise to opportunities to tell stories that resonate with the current times and topics.

“I’m particularly hopeful that this year, in 2021, we will see some ‘now’ applications, rather than just looking back,” agrees Browning.

Buying time

In the fast-paced business world, we often hear that time is money.  But when it comes to researching your latest literary project, money is really about time - time to focus, time to go in-depth with your chosen subject.

Browning refers to the grants as “really valuable, a stepping stone to something that might be greater. It gets a writer into a space where they can dedicate some time to a particular piece of research that helps them complete their work.

“Getting a full 360-degree view of your subject rather than just your own knowledge is really critical and it takes time to do that.”

Application 101 - what you need to know

Taking that step from concept to application can be tricky for some - but the key is to pay attention to the details.

The Research Grant criteria include projects that: 

  • add significantly to the field or genre on the subject, writes about issues topical in present-day Aotearoa, or is of high national or local significance and will not date quickly

  • demonstrate an ability to write well, be accurate and engaging.

  • where the proposed research clearly benefits and advances the project.


Other points and tips to bear in mind:

  • you must be a New Zealand citizens or permanent resident

  • Provide a short (300 words max each) summary of the project, an outline of the research required for the project. Applicants should put real thought into this - it’s a great chance to show the judges your writing style. (top tip: write and edit this somewhere other than on the application template, then copy and paste onto the form.) 

  • Make sure your sample of writing is provided in PDF format and doesn’t contain any special characters (i.e. ‘ ; – #) -it can sometimes stop them from sending correctly. 

  • Make sure the CV you attach gives the judging panel confidence you can achieve your project goals - show your achievements as a writer and/or experience in the field you propose to write in. You are aiming to give the selectors confidence that you can achieve the project.

  • Expressions of interest aren’t mandatory - but if you have received them verbally, now is the time to get them in writing and include them in your entry.


Written in partnership with the Copyright New Zealand/ New Zealand Society of Authors Research Grant. 2021 Applications are open for 2021 until 11 June, giving plenty of time for writers both experienced and fledgling, nonfiction or fiction, to put their hands up for selection.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

31 May 2021

The Big Idea Editor