Top 5 Mistakes Made By Novice Grant Writers
In ten years of professional grant writing, I have written hundreds of successful grants, read many grants for other people, and taught numerous grant writing workshops. Even people who are excellent writers tend to make several common mistakes when they try their hand at grant writing. Unfortunately, people who have experienced some success in writing, in general, tend to struggle with constructive criticism when it comes to grant writing, even though those of us who have been very successful with grant writing know that there really is a formula for success. Avoiding the common novice mistakes will make a significant difference in your success rate.
Mistake #1: Not following the directions. Novice grant writers often have the uncanny ability to write eloquently about whatever they want to say, regardless of what the funder has asked. It is critically important that you read the directions thoroughly, and then clearly address the scoring criteria in your written response. Sometimes it helps to re-word the scoring criteria as questions, and then answer the questions directly in your text.
Mistake #2: Trying to say too much. One of the keys to successful grant writing is conveying your need and plan to the reader in a way that is as clear and straightforward as possible. If you put too much information in the narrative, you will confuse your reader and, ultimately, not be funded.
Mistake #3: Not drawing a clear link between need, plan, and budget. Many novice grant writers will make a compelling case for their need for a grant in the needs section of their proposal, but not provide a plan for addressing all of their needs in the program design section. Sometimes, there is an excellent link between need and the plan, but when you get to the budget, you see that the budget only covers about half of the plan and there is no explanation for how the rest will be funded. The worst example is when a writer puts a whole bunch of extra goodies in the budget that are not mentioned in the plan at all. Here's the rule I follow - If it is mentioned as a need, it should be addressed in the plan. If it is included in the plan, it should be addressed in the budget.
Mistake #4: Assuming the reader knows you. Most people know that they should spell out acronyms and be very clear about local terms, but many writers forget that the people reading the grant will not know you or your organization. If you are writing a federal grant, the readers will not even be from your state, so they will probably not be aware of common state programs and funding sources. You may assume that everyone knows about Program XYZ because it is common in your state, but your grant readers will be confused if you don't clearly explain the program. Confused readers will not score your proposal very highly.
Mistake #5: Not thoroughly proofreading and editing the proposal. Many novice writers are so nervous about criticism that they want to handle the entire writing process - start to finish - by themselves. This is a huge mistake. If you have been working with a document for days or weeks, your eye will simply not be able to pick up on some errors. You need at least one other reader to read the document carefully to catch all errors.
There are two important parts to the proofreading and editing process. The first is to have someone read the proposal for content. That person should have the instructions and scoring criteria handy and should read the proposal as if he were scoring the proposal. Does everything make sense? Is there a clear link between need, plan, and budget? Are the objectives measurable? Are all of the scoring criteria addressed? After reading the proposal, does the reader have a very clear idea of what you propose to do? If the reader tells you that something is unclear, you should take that suggestion very seriously. If your "friendly reader" doesn't understand something, it is very likely that the grant scorers will not get it either. Change it. The second part of the review process is for someone to proofread the document for typos and the conventions of writing (that means grammar, etc.). Do not rely on spell-check to catch all of your typos! I could give you at least a dozen embarrassing examples of words that spell check did not flag that you probably don't want in your grant ("tat", instead of "that" or "pubic" instead of "public"). You need a real reader to catch it all.
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