10 tips for writing winning grant proposals

It should come as no surprise that the content of a grant proposal is critical. Obviously, if you don’t have a strong project to propose, chances are you won’t receive a grant to implement it. However, just as important to the grant-writing process is your ability to "sell" your project to grant reviewers–that is, to craft a winning proposal through strong writing skills.

So, how do you "write" the "right" proposal? Here are 10 tips and suggestions to help you with the writing part of the proposal process:

1. If you want to understand what reviewers are looking for in terms of a writing style or ability, look at copies of previously funded proposals. Studying the writing style of successful applicants will give you a good idea of how your own proposal should be written. (Is the proposal written as if directed toward a Ph.D. scholar, or is it written at a high school or college level? Is it written in a formal style, or one that is more conversational in tone?)

2. Another clue to writing style can be found in the RFP. Carefully examine the style of writing and the formality of the language used in the instructions for applying, and try to mirror this style in your proposal. If you read the instructions for a National Institutes of Health research grant, for example, it becomes clear that a certain level of writing is expected in the proposals. More than likely, the researchers who are submitting proposals write at a high, scholarly level using complicated research terms that most of us do not use in our day-to-day writing.

3. You should never make any assumptions about the reviewers. They might, or might not, be experts in the field. Consequently, do not use terms that are specific to education or technology without defining these terms the first time they appear in your proposal. Beware of using "education speak," or jargon those outside the field have no frame of reference to understand. The same applies to acronyms: These should always be spelled out the first time you use them.

4. One of the best ways to decide if you’ve written complete sentences that make sense is to read your proposal aloud to someone who is not familiar with your project before you submit your application.

5. Use active verbs and sentence constructions, rather than passive ones. Instead of writing, "The district finds that the students show low achievement scores in math," say: "Students in our district have low math achievement scores."

6. Do not use equivocal language, such as, "We hope that if we receive funding, we might be able to meet our goals." Write with authority and conviction. Approach the proposal-writing process as if you already know that your project will be funded, and you’re writing to tell the reviewers what will happen when you receive the grant award.

7. Use everyday words unless you are writing a technical proposal. Don’t try to impress reviewers by using sophisticated words when the everyday version will do just fine.

8. Keep your sentences short and concise. Reviewers can lose interest quickly when reading long, rambling sentences.

9. As you are writing, convey your passion and enthusiasm for the project, so that reviewers become excited as they read your proposal.

10. Be careful about using creative writing when crafting a grant proposal. For some funders, creative writing might be appropriate, especially if they’re interested in hearing about teacher and/or student stories. Use previously funded proposals and the RFP as your guides when making this determination.

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