Including a literature review in the Needs Assessment section of your grant proposal can seem like a daunting task. Unfortunately, applicants who do not include such a review face an immediate disadvantage.

It is important to have a problem or need that is real and well-documented, and it’s equally important to show funders that you know what researchers have done to successfully (or, in some cases, unsuccessfully) address needs like yours in the past. In your grant proposal, you should demonstrate the significance of your proposed project by citing any pertinent literature.

Conducting a literature review involves looking for research that:

  • Defines the scope of the project;
  • Demonstrates the success of specific strategies; and
  • Demonstrates the weakness of certain strategies. In response to this information, your proposal is designed to show that your proposed project:
  • Is taking a new approach that requires piloting, testing, and evaluation; or
  • Will test a previously successful approach, perhaps with a different target population and/or with a strong evaluation component.

    Your literature review should support your choices for specific objectives, activities, or strategies. It should be viewed as an opportunity to provide a solid foundation for your proposal and for the reviewer.

    It is often difficult for proposal writers to be knowledgeable about previous research that has been conducted. However, here are some potential sources of literature for you to investigate:

  • Federal, state, and/or local government studies, reports, and hearings;
  • Reports and studies by professional associations (such as the National Reading Association or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics);
  • Studies conducted by foundations and that include recommendations (such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation);
  • Scholarly research conducted by university researchers (such as Teachers College at Columbia University); and
  • Requests for Proposals (RFPs), especially federal ones, also might contain information about and references to prior research that has been conducted.

    Check government sources for research. Look on the U.S. Department of Education’s web site, or the federal ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) Database–which contains more than 1.1 million citations of journal and non-journal education literature going back to 1966. If you are conducting a project that involves students with criminal backgrounds, check the U.S. Justice Department’s web site, specifically under juvenile offenders, to search for information about research studies for this target population.

    Don’t overlook several important individuals who can also provide assistance with literature reviews. Program officers for the grant program you are applying to are knowledgeable about researchers, especially those whose findings are given particular weight by their department. Ask your school librarian, or the reference librarian at a local library or college, to help you conduct a literature search. Contact university professors and ask them where to search–and ask if there are any bibliographies about your topic that are already available.

    A good literature review is critical to provide a solid Needs Assessment section. Conduct a valid and thorough search using internet resources and the assistance of program officers, librarians, and experts in the field of education. By summarizing the pertinent literature, you can document a clear need and demonstrate the significance of your proposed project convincingly.