Grant Proposal Writing
from Craig Woelfel, ND Graduate Teaching Assistant, English, Fall 2009
What to Know Before You Write
Locate an appropriate grant and read the guidelines and application carefully.
Tailor your proposal to the specific intentions of a particular grant. Familiarize yourself with the language of the grant description and the mission of the foundation offering the grant, as well as the grant’s specific parameters - that’s your audience, and you want to be persuasive on (and in) their terms.
Be aware of the deadline. Don’t leave anything to chance – aim to finish early.
Make sure that your project can be accomplished with the median amount of funds specified by the grant to which you are applying. If applying for multiple grants, be sure to note that on your application.
If possible, talk with peers and faculty members in your area who have worked with the particular institutions to which you are applying.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the institution directly.
Clarify your ideas through research.
Do you have a clear project?
What question(s) will you be addressing?
What resources and skills will you need to complete your project? Do you know how to do research at an archive? Do you need language competence? Are you familiar with human subject protocol? etc.
There is a lot of preliminary work that goes into a successful application: locate archives, contact people at your planned destination by phone or e-mail, talk with your advisor or with professors who have done on-the-ground research related to your project, etc. All of this will be invaluable for strengthening your proposal.
What research is already out there related to your project?
- How does your project situate itself in the broader research of its larger field?
Have you searched for other/outside sources of funding?
The best thing that you can do is discuss your ideas with colleagues and with faculty members. This both helps you work out your own ideas and helps you get a specific language for describing the project and the methods that you will employ.
Writing the Research Statement
There are basically 4 parts plus conclusion to a research statement. They are listed below, but note that they do not necessarily have to be confined to this arrangement. The four main parts should be relatively proportional, with (usually) a slight emphasis on II (Project Statement). It is often hard to do everything in the space allotted; that you can do so is part of the application.
I. Statement of Problem/Issue
A. What sort of issue are you addressing, and why is there a need for it? This could mean situating your project within current research (what gap are you filling? whose work are you building on?) or within a larger social problem, AND/OR explaining how the project is essential to your academic needs.
B. How is your problem statement in line with the goals of the grant-giving institute?
Your problem statement should be clear and concise. You should also aim for it to be interesting to read. Maintain a scholarly and professional tone, and get to the point – no ‘catchy’ generalities, etc.
If you’ve done relevant research to contextualize the project, cite it (properly).
II. Project Statement
A. What is your specific project?
B. How does it answer (or begin to answer) the problem that you have described?
C. Explain your specific goals.
D. Give a “Statement of Need”: a compelling and logical claim as to why this project should be
III. Research Design and Methods
A. How will you complete this project?
B. Where will you go? In what program will you be participating? What archives will you visit? With whom will you meet?
C. What methods will you use to complete your research?
D. What are your expected outcomes?
- This is where you want to display, as concretely as possible, the work that you’ve done already: name names and places specifically, and use appropriate language to describe methods; if possible, explain who it is that you’ve contacted and what arrangements are in place.
A. Why are you capable of carrying out the project? Why are you and your skill-sets ideally suited to do this project?
B. What work have you done in the past that has helped you to be ready for this project?
C. How will this project (and the funding you’re asking for) help you in future endeavors?
A. Re-assert your project and its suitability to the grant institution’s goals and the particular grant you are seeking.
B. Re-assert your statement of need.
Have some, but the right kind: be clear, thorough, and concise. Every sentence should do work for you – everyone loves that you are a creative and outgoing individual, but people giving you money prefer that you be competent and professional.
That said, remember, you are making an argument and that you are in a competition. Don’t assume that the people reviewing the grants are familiar with your areas of interest or that they think they are particularly important – you want to interest them and ultimately you need to convince them.
Don’t be afraid of repetiti-on. Also, don’t be afraid of repeating yourself. . . That is, as long as what you’re repeating is important.
Say it with me: “Use the language of need, not the language of want.” Everyone wants free money, and frankly, almost no one needs it, but you should do your best to convince the people giving out the money that you fall into the latter category. In addition to needing funding, explain why you need to do this project. Familiarize yourself with the phrase “cost prohibitive,” and with adjectives like “essential,” “critical,” etc.
Know your audience. Every grant-giving institution has specific goals, as does each particular grant. Wherever possible, incorporate the specific language that the institution uses to describe its goals as well as the language that the particular grant for which you are applying uses to describe its intended uses.
Edit your proposal.
Visually, it should be simple and clean. Use the white space of the page to help demarcate the different parts of your statement. All tables (such as the budget proposal) should be clear and easy to understand.
Typographical errors make you seem incompetent or, at best, lazy. Do not have any.
Be sure to follow ALL guidelines for length, formatting, etc.
Avoid acronyms, jargon, and abbreviations. Assume that your audience is a group of competent scholars but not experts in your field.
Number your pages and be sure that your last name appears on the header of each page.
When you cite, do so correctly.
Make an appointment at the University Writing Center to talk about your projects and/or to go over drafts of your proposals – they’re here to help! 45-minute appointments, available on the hour, can be reserved on the writing center website: http://writingcenter.nd.edu
The Art of Writing Proposals:
Some Candid Suggestions for Applicants to Social Science Research Council Competitions
By Adam Przeworski and Frank Salomon
Writing proposals for research funding is a peculiar facet of North American academic culture, and as with all things cultural, its attributes rise only partly into public consciousness. A proposal's overt function is to persuade a committee of scholars that the project shines with the three kinds of merit all disciplines value, namely, conceptual innovation, methodological rigor, and rich, substantive content. But to make these points stick, a proposal writer needs a feel for the unspoken customs, norms, and needs that govern the selection process itself. These are not really as arcane or ritualistic as one might suspect. For the most part, these customs arise from the committee's efforts to deal in good faith with its own problems: incomprehension among disciplines, work overload, and the problem of equitably judging proposals that reflect unlike social and academic circumstances...
Read the complete article--applicable to study/research proposals in all fields--at http://fellowships.ssrc.org/art_of_writing_proposals/