Writing a grant proposal can be daunting, and the information that you've gathered can look overwhelming. But there are some tried and true guidelines to keep in mind as you prepare for and write that proposal. When confusion sets in, revisit these tips to get your bearings again.
- Stop, think, and organize your ideas. After you've gathered all the information you think you will need, go back and reread the funder's guidelines so that you are writing exactly what the funder wants. Then identify the main point, concept or theme of your proposal. All of the points that come after will follow logically from that central idea. Write down those broad concepts first.
- Take the time to write an outline of your proposal. For some writing projects, writing whatever comes to mind first works, but, for a grant proposal, you will save time by carefully outlining what you will write and in the order that you will write it. Then it is a matter of filling in that outline. The outline can change, but it is rewarding to check off sections of the outline as you finish them.
- When confused, refocus on the outline. If you get stuck somewhere, just move on to another part of the outline. You can circle back and usually will find that what was confusing earlier now becomes clear. Having an outline can help assuage the fear that you might be going in circles or alleviate that feeling of being overwhelmed by too much information.
- Ax the jargon. Use language that anyone can understand, not just specialists in your field or people who work at your agency. Jargon is irritating to readers and often seems pretentious. Winston Churchill said, "Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all." So use those old short words instead of fancy new long ones.
- Include human interest. People, even institutional funders, want to give to other people. Even though you must include plenty of facts, make sure that stories about real people illustrate the issues you are writing about. Stories backed up with data are likely the best way to reach the hearts and the minds of your readers.
- Don't exaggerate. Keep the problem and the solutions realistic. Don't let your passion for your cause drive you to hyperbole. Describe manageable problems and propose doable solutions. Don't promise more than you can deliver and carefully match need and solution with plenty of programmatic specifics.
- Simplify. The length and complexity of your proposal does not affect the amount of money you receive. Stick to the main points, eliminate wordiness, and present your ideas as concisely as possible. Don't try the patience of your readers. Short and succinct will win them over.
- Revise, edit and clarify. After writing the best draft you can, put it aside and let it "cool" as long as possible. Then go back and reread the document. Does it make sense? Are there gaps? Are the word choices appropriate and the grammar pristine? Have one or two other people, who are willing to give you honest feedback, read the proposal. Have them put question marks in the margins wherever they get hung up or don't understand.
Try reading the proposal out loud to someone. Sometimes reading aloud will tell us where the wording is awkward, and certainly if the listener says "huh?" a lot, you know you have work to do.
Go back and read the funder's guidelines again. Have you done what they asked?