Seven Ways to Wow the Technical Grant Proposal Review Committee
7 May, 2021
The importance of good writing in technical grant proposals is significantly underestimated. Have a thought for the grant review committees. Reviewing 40 or 50 grant applications for three or four funding opportunities is depressing enough, but when they are written by scientists, engineers and tech people with few writing skills, it can be agony. Are you surprised that grant proposal reviewers respond better to well-written proposals?
You really can improve your chance of success with good writing. Here are a few tips:
You want your grant application to stand out. Typically, the writing in technical grant proposals is so poor that most committees find it easier to reject than face the struggle of reviewing them. However, a well-written proposal which introduces new innovations and ideas to solve a problem convincingly is a breath of fresh air. With a little practice, your technical grant proposal could be the one that brightens up a review meeting.
Ensure the Budget Matches the Proposal
Grant reviewers will often look at the budget first and then look to see whether the budget stacks up against the proposal. The budget needs to be accessible to your average reader, and not written in accountant-speak. It also needs to match the narrative of your proposal, not look like it’s landed at the end from outer-space. And, most importantly, the numbers need to make sense.
It’s also worth noting that if your entire proposal rests on the success of a pivotal experiment at the beginning, it’s unlikely to win over the panel. It would be better to have completed that pivotal experiment before pitching for funding. Alternatively, propose multiple routes to the same goal.
Make It Readable
Review panels respond better to proposals they can read. Who knew? A good mantra is: simple, short sentences, and one idea per paragraph.
Three of George Orwell’s famous rules for writing are applicable to grant applications:
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Understand What the Funders Want
Doomed and futile grant applications are no more fun for the review committee than they are for you. It’s essential to find out as much as you can about what the funders are looking for. This includes reading and understanding the instructions and doing as much research as you can, including finding things out directly from the grant administrators. They are people and you’re allowed to talk to them! Your proposal needs to show how your solution aligns with their goals.
Write to Recruit a Believer
To have a chance of receiving a funding award, your proposal needs to motivate an advocate on the review panel. So write with that person in mind. Describe the goals of the project in a simple, clear way and write convincingly about why they are important. Explain any new technology carefully, but also talk honestly about why it’s impressive. Cover the main points quickly so that your advocate can grasp them easily and relay them to others who haven’t read the proposal. Think of it as writing their pitch. In the more technical sections, for the benefit of the specialists, you can explain the solution in more detail and how your goals are achievable. The overriding goal is to present an exciting project in simple, effective prose.
Pan Out and Zoom In
Many grant proposals are neither broad nor specific enough. They fixate on uninteresting details and generalize about the solution without explaining to the reader how that works in practice. This is both boring and confusing—the worst of all worlds. It is much better to begin from a broad perspective, giving an overview of why the problem you are addressing is important, and why you care. Then, when you are explaining the proposed solution, focus in on the specifics of exactly how it will work. This is particularly important for the most innovative aspects.
Errors, typos and inconsistencies at best undermine the credibility of your solution and at worst can cause confusion or offence. Cutting and pasting is a risky business. You could inadvertently name the wrong funding source, mix up different sentences, quote from another grant program’s funding criteria. Close proofreading after all revisions is essential. Ensure that you have only used technical terms that are critical to understanding, and that you have defined them properly on first use.
When it comes to proofreading, PerfectIt™ for Microsoft Word is the grant writer’s greatest ally. PerfectIt can save you hours locating tiny errors. It checks every acronym is defined, spellings and punctuation are consistent, and even helps locate extra spaces and comments left in the text. It can also be customized to hunt down jargony words, helping you to choose more impactful alternatives.
Winning funding depends on making it easy for the evaluators to review your proposal. Remember, grant reviewers are human too! Eliminate confusion. Ensure that your writing is as clear and concise, and speaks with one voice across the whole proposal.
Your aim is to communicate: what is the problem, why is it important, and how will your solution solve it? What would their life look like in the future if this new technology is implemented? This is the story your grant review team are waiting for. Don’t let poor writing or lazy editing get in the way of telling it.