Q&A with Steve Cain
Good grant writing is good storytelling
Grant writing is becoming more and more important to Purdue Extension
these days. Having recently served on two grant review teams, I wasn’t
surprised when I was asked this month’s question.
Question: What does it take to write a good grant?
Answer: Good storytelling.
In my recent experience, the grant writers who told their stories well
to a group of people who had varying degrees of expertise about the topic
were the winners.
Good practices for telling the story in your grant proposal include:
jargon and spell out acronyms. In one of my recent experiences,
a reviewer picked up a jargon-heavy proposal and exclaimed, “Not
another hard-to-read proposal.” Reviewers want to understand
the needs you describe and your proposed solution. They shouldn’t
have to do research just to understand your proposal. Don’t
make them constantly go to the dictionary or Google jargon words
it fun to read. Give your readers reasons to move forward,
not slog forward. Present with flare or enthusiasm, but don’t
waste words with unneeded adjectives. My writing professor used
to say, “Show me, don’t tell me.” Don’t
just tell the reviewer how a program could make a difference; show
them an example of how it can change life or processes.
- Do your
homework. Write and present facts in a way that show you
are an expert in the field. At the National Academies of Science,
they expect you to know the entire literature on a topic and prove
it. They expect you to know more than the individual, expert reviewers,
so you are almost teaching as you are presenting. Your solution
should be based on taking knowledge to the next level. You can only
do that if you’ve done the research and know the cutting edge.
- Be visual.
Several successful proposals placed convincing graphics that illustrated
the solution, invention, flow of the process, and/or demographics
of people affected. A picture can be worth a thousand words, and
several thousand grant dollars. Before including a picture, be sure
it is part of the proposal process.
your audience. Some successful grants, once they are accepted,
are posted on the granting agency’s Web site or shared in
other ways. Before writing a grant, know the guidelines and read
previously funded grants.
the grantors. For some grants it doesn’t hurt to
be on speaking terms with the granting agency. That doesn’t
guarantee a successful grant, but it usually helps you know more
about what they want.
Steve Cain, firstname.lastname@example.org
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