Writing Tips

Writing Tips

A Few Key Strategies

  1. Give yourself plenty of time. Writing a winning proposal takes several weeks, even months.
  2. Carefully evaluate the funding agency and the specific guidelines for the grant for which you are applying. Choose a funder whose mission statement fits your type of research. Then tailor your proposal to fit the review criteria of the funding agency. 
  3. Use simple, non-discipline specific language. Avoid jargon. Review committees are comprised of scholars from a variety of disciplines. Your proposal needs to be accessible to a general, educated audience.
  4. Collaborate: Share your proposal with other graduate students. Give it to your adviser to review. And collaborate with grad students outside of your department (see the Collaborate section of this site). Because review committees draw from a wide variety of academic disciplines, you will only benefit from working with other students and professors from outside your own department. 
  5. Revise, rewrite, edit, proofread, and re-edit. Be meticulous about writing, spelling, and punctuation. Don't allow your dissertation or major project to go unfunded because of typos or sloppy formatting.
  6. Your application must be submitted on time. Funders will not consider any late applications.

Expert Advice on Writing Proposals

  • Writing Proposals for ACLS Fellowship Competitions, by Christina M. Gillis
  • U of Michigan's Proposal Writers Guide
    • A helpful overview of the various sections of proposals. Don't miss the "why proposals are rejected" section.
  • Social Science Research Council, Art of Writing Proposals
    • An essay offering sound advice for those writing social science proposals or proposals in the arts and humanities.
  • Ten Ways to Write a Better Grant
    • Advice on this link is tailored to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) more than to other funders, but most of its advice is helpful for most proposals. However, when it advises you to find out who will review your grant, it is working within the NIH paradigm only. NIH lists the names of its study section reviewers. While you may not contact these people, you can read their publications and get a good idea of their specific expertise and interests. Other funders usually preserve their reviewers' anonymity, but you can get a good idea of the funders' interests straight from the program officer. In many government agencies, the program officer makes the final decision amongst the proposals recommended by review panels.
  • Foundation Centers Short Course
    • Although aimed primarily at proposals to foundations, this course offers a useful overview of strategically fitting your proposal to the funders guidelines and thinking through the logic of your work for an external funder.
  • Grant Proposal Writing by Stephen Wilbers
    • Advice from a local writing expert.
  • NIH Application Tips
    • Lots of good advice for everyone here, including non-scientists.
  • NSF Guidelines
    • Full instructions for preparing NSF proposals.
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