Grant Writing Tips
from Jane Maxwell, Ph.D.
UT Center for Social Work Research
PAGE TWO OF TWO (DOWNLOAD A COPY IN PDF FORMAT)
Write a good literature review to help build your case.
The literature review gives you a chance to educate the reader about how your approach fits in with earlier work and it demonstrates that you really know your topic. Make sure your citations are accurate, and use a style manual to make sure your footnote and reference citations are done correctly. Also, be careful not to plagiarize; use quotation marks where appropriate.
Spend time preparing a good needs section.
There are plenty of data available to document your need. Look at the data on the web sites shown on the GCATTC's Center for Excellence in Drug Epidemiology. There are data on arrests, DWI accidents, clients in treatment, emergency room admissions, overdose deaths, etc. Be specific and use footnotes to document the data sources. Don’t use "thousands" and "lots". If analyzing data is not your strength, get someone else to help, but go over their draft and make sure it shows the need which you are trying to fill.
Pay attention to the goals and objectives.
Before you begin writing, set out your goals and objectives. Tie them to the program announcement, but don’t just quote back the same words. Start thinking about how to quantify the goals. Keep reworking the goals and objectives as the proposal develops, and at the end, go back and revise them (and the entire application) to make sure everything is consistent. If your final goal is to treat 125, does the budget match? Does the staffing pattern match? Somewhere the proposal may still say that 143 will be treated. Double-check for consistency.
Fit the staffing patterns to the approach and methods.
Does the staff bring special expertise to this proposal? If so, emphasize it. Resumes are usually out-of-date and staff hate to update them. Get them revised early and make sure they highlight the expertise in the area you are addressing.
Only include meaningful letters of support. Letters can help if they demonstrate a very solid commitment to and involvement in the proposed project. Letters which just say "we have a problem" or "the area needs a program" or "we support the application" can hurt more than help. A critical reviewer will see through them and conclude that your agency really has no relationship with the other agency and the letter is just a courtesy with no meaning. Don’t include letters unless they really help you.
Pay close attention to the scoring weights.
After you have written a section, read the scoring section and make sure you have not only addressed everything that is called for, but that you have emphasized those points. If you only mentioned a topic used in the scoring, go back and expand the discussion. And after you have written the entire application, go back again and cover the weights throughout; don’t just mention them in one section.
Write the abstract last.
Since the application is changing as you write it, don’t waste time doing the abstract first. It will barely resemble the finished proposal. Some funding agencies use the abstract to determine which category is being applied for and to assign it to a review group, so make sure you are specific about what grant you are applying for. In the abstract, address each of the parts of the application: background, need, goals, approach, staffing, etc.
Have a critical reader review your application.
The more critical the reader and the more the application is "nitpicked," the better. Don’t get your feelings hurt. This is your chance to fix unclear or contradictory areas.
Use the best proofer available.
While the grant reviewer can’t count off for bad grammar or misspellings, she can be negatively influenced. Watch "it’s" versus "its," "who’s" versus "whose," "there" versus "their," etc. Pay attention to the errors the proofer caught so you don’t make them again when you are writing the abstract at midnight.
Polish the application to make it "pretty."
One of the strongest assets is an application that looks good. Pay attention to documents that look appealing versus those that discourage your reading them because they don’t look good. Use an attractive font. Have plenty of white space. Resist the temptation to use all kinds of different fonts or a confusing mix of bolds, italics, underlines, outlines, or shadows. Get someone who produces desktop-published documents to set up a style sheet and then follow it (for instance, make chapter heads 14 point bold, section heads 12 point underlined, etc.). Get their help again as you are finishing up. If some of the resumes or appendices are FAXed or are not good copies, have them retyped. Make sure the Table of Contents is correct. Also, if the funding agency allows you to send in the copies bound, make sure you have a nice cover and binding job (but don’t appear extravagant). Appearance counts a lot more than you think.
Follow the instructions—again.
Take a final day to go over the entire application to make sure you have addressed everything that you will be scored on. Make sure you have met all the requirements. At this stage, you’ll be really tired (and really tired of the proposal), so get the other expert in directions to also go over it. You will be surprised at what is still missing.
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