Saturday, January 01, 2011
Last november I wrote a grant application. It turned out that it was for a much larger kind of grant than what I understood when I agreed to do it, which means it was far more work than I anticipated. I basically put the whole month into it. I think I did well, we'll see in a few months, but it got me thinking a lot into how did people that write successful applications learn. There is certainly some natural talent involved, but for sure they must have had a) good teachers and b) lots of trials and errors. Since they say "Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes from mistakes", I am assuming that last one, although it is clearly difficult to imagine some people not getting a grant approved. Anyway, there must be some big part which is just knowing how to write well (which I try and practice and try some more). However, it is a different kind of writing. This time I had my manuscript read by a lot of people (not just my coauthors), but each person at a different stage of the proposal -- and out of respect to them, only once. This gave me a good deal of feedback, which improved the proposal incredibly. I guess this one is obvious, but consider a friend who was impressed by my asking so many people to read it. He told me he had just submitted a proposal without nobody else reading it -- and it turned out that the referees did not like his presentation. We'll see how mine goes, but I think this is a solid piece of advice: have your drafts read and commented by other people, especially those you respect how they write. This point is important, as I got a lot of positive remarks about the draft from peers, but quite some criticisms from more senior (and good) people. The other advice I didn't quite understand till now was how to the point the proposal has to be. There is less room to wander than in a PRL, really. The words of advice were: military style, almost with the bullet points. I had the bullet points at first, but at the end the text was so intrinsically itemized that I just removed them and nothing changed -- which I loved because really wasn't so in love with the bullets.
So, two points: very straightforward, and ask for comments. I have to leave now, but will continue in the next post with a couple more pointers.

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posted by fercook @ 10:22 AM   2 comments links to this post


At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Megan Tackett said...

A lot of states have Common Grant Applications that serve as great standards and are accepted my several foundations. Colorado recently redeveloped its CGA and has found a lot of success with it. You can learn more by checking out the user's guide here:

Don't be deterred because it has the word Colorado in the title -- these guidelines are applicable to any grant writer. Make sure you have a solid boilerplate, and the rest will flow more easily.

Good luck!

At 2:52 PM, Blogger fercook said...

Thanks! The material looks good, quite similar to a grant writing course I took 5 years ago. I sort of wanted to comment on the bits that come when you go through the actual experience of writing one proposal (and in this case I was the lead writer). The "military" style kind of impressed me, for instance, because I had never seen such focused advice about what style the proposal should use.
The proofreading, commented in the CGA user guide, made me laugh because I wrote the post in such a hurry that I made so many typos...


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