Friday, March 7, 2014

Grant Writing Tips

You should only begin writing once you've done your research on your target sponsor as well as worked with a Program Officer to hone your idea to make it a great fit for the sponsor. But once you're ready to begin writing your grant application, there are some writing tips to bear in mind for this genre.
These tips are somewhat particular to grant-writing, because of the unique audience and use of grant applications. The audience for grants are the sponsor broadly and the reviewers specifically. Readers use these applications to find a project that is the best fit for the sponsor. The reviewers are seeking first to understand the project being presented and then to critique and rank that application.

Be clear
Reviewers are not looking for eloquence in a grant application. In all likelihood, they are skimming much of the application on first read to get a gist for what you're project is about. It's for this reason that the use of visuals or diagrams that give an overview of your concept can be especially useful.  Also, keep all of your sentences short and in active voice. You want your application to be easy to read fast.

Let ideas sell themselves

In their book, The Research Funding Toolkit (2012), Aldridge and Derrington suggest using adjectives and adverbs minimally. This is because they can weigh down your sentences and make them more difficult to read, but also they rarely serve a purpose in grant-writing. Your ideas and your project should sell themselves. You shouldn't need to say, "This project is very important!" Instead, you need to show how it is.
This does not mean that you should assume that your reviewers understand the importance of your work or why your project needs to be done. Instead, you should share statistics and short personal interest stories to reinforce the need for your project.

Prime and signal your audience
One technique that helps with easy readability is to signal your readers and give them a sense of what you're going to focus on in a particular section. This can be done using clear headings that describe a section, or beginning a paragraph with a short introduction to what you're discussing in the following sentences.

Priming your audience is done by providing relevant contextual information before presenting a new idea. This is important because it helps to answer questions that your reader might naturally have when presented with an idea before they have a chance to ask or wonder.

A save all questions till the end approach is a poor choice in grant-writing, because as I've heard from multiple grant-writers and reviewers, you can't count on reviewers to read your whole application with a fine tooth comb. You shouldn't expect them to root out the answers to their questions. You need to tell them upfront, or don't be surprised when you get reviewer comments that you did not answer their questions.

Consider the reviewer experience
Overall, one of the best ways to improve your grant-writing, along with these techniques is to review others' grants. Whether you are an official sponsor reviewer, or just reviewing a grant for a colleague before they submit, notice your experience in reading the grant.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you skimming some parts and why? 
  • What sections or writing are the most helpful in giving you a clear idea of your author's work and what are they doing to make that clear?
  • Where do you zone out and why? How did the author lose you?
  • What questions come up as you read and are they answered quickly?
In being cognizant of your reviewer experience, you'll likely find it easier and more natural to begin writing for your reviewers and the sponsor in your own grants.

Upcoming  ORDE Faculty Seminars: Grant Writing Structure and Mechanics
ORDE Proposal Development Tips
Access Sponsor Grant Tips from the ORDE Website

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