Proposal Writing Techniques

A single webpage can only do so much. There have been entire books tailored to the writing of specific types of grant proposals, or to certain funders, some of which can be found in the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance or in Ladd Library. In lieu of a book, here are some general pieces of advice that apply to most if not all grant proposals.

  1. Bear in mind who will be reading your proposal: Not only the peer review, but who is empowered to make the decision about whether it will be selected for funding. Information about the review and selection process may be available on the website of the funding source or in the specific Request For Proposals (RFP) to which you are replying. If it is not, you may be able to learn more by speaking to a program officer at the funding source, or from Sponsored Programs.
  2. Abide by all page limits and formatting requirements. When in doubt, use a common font in 12 pt, with 1” margins. Abiding by page limits does not simply mean stopping abruptly when you get to the end of the last page, but structuring your argument such that your key points are made within the limitations. This may mean that you are not able to present a fully rigorous case according to the norms of publication in your discipline. The rhetorical task is to make your case appear rigorous, with any noticeable gaps being dependent upon the significant questions that you have stated your intent to address.
  3. State the purpose, significance, and (if relevant) guiding hypothesis of your project clearly on the first page.
  4. If the proposal requires more than a narrative and a budget (e.g., biographical sketches, letters of commitment from collaborators), make sure you have those together well before the deadline.
  5. Strike a tone that is confident and forward-looking. Never write “might,” “could,” “would” or “should,” but will.

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