Comply with requirements. Reviewers are tasked with checking that applications adhere to the funding opportunity and agency requirements. Thoroughly review the requirements of the Request for Proposals (RFP) before and throughout the writing process. Common areas of application conformance include:
- Ensuring the research topic and creative activity fits the mission of the funder. One of the most effective strategies to check this alignment is to contact the program officer early in your proposal writing process.
- Meeting all stipulations in the defined subsections of the RFP.
- Including all required sections of the proposal.
- Developing your budget in accordance to stated guidelines: meet formatting requirements, avoid items that are categorized as un-fundable, adhere to funding ceilings, and if requested, provide a detailed budget justification.
- Meeting document formatting requirements such as font size, type density, and margin sizes.
- Abiding by page limitations.
- Saving and uploading the specified file type.
Connect with the core mission of the funding agency. Communicate your research and creative activity ideas and entice interest in them. Demonstrate what your proposed work will add to the field, or what problem it will solve, in relation to the funding agency mission. "Selling" your project may initially be out of your comfort zone, but getting the reviewer excited about your project's dividends can give you an advantage.
Write clearly and precisely.
- Construct a strong introduction to your proposal, explaining your thesis/hypothesis up front. Your project goal(s) should be obvious to the reviewer early on.
- Structure your proposal in a logical, linear fashion. Proposals that reflect the structure of the RFP make it easier for reviewers to follow an argument for your project and to identify required elements.
- Reviewers are typically required to score proposals in accordance to an established rubric provided by the funder. Anticipate the scorer’s rubric for the specific opportunity by carefully reading the evaluation section in the RFP and visiting related FAQ pages.
- Use writing space wisely. Frequently, investigators will include an overabundance of background information and literature review, neglecting to feature the proposed tangible activities. Explain what you’re planning to do using active language. Keep literature overview and background limited to highlighting recent or highly impactful research directly relevant to your objectives.
- Beginning each paragraph with a strong, incisive topic sentence is an effective practice in communicating your ideas to reviewers.
- Depending on your field and funding agency, be aware that some reviewers on the panel may be non-specialists. Concepts that are obvious to you, the specialized academic, may be less obvious to the reviewer. An outside perspective can help identify this potential problem.
- Consider using tables, charts, or diagrams to communicate or clarify complex concepts. If you’re having a difficult time explaining a research concept to a potentially non-specialist audience, a thoughtfully designed visual can be the perfect solution.
Steer clear of these common proposal writing pitfalls. The following, for example, can cause more distraction than clarity:
- Avoid overly complicated sentences. Keep your writing clear and straightforward to keep the reviewer from potentially having to re-read your sentences to grasp presented concepts.
- Do not use too many acronyms, and be sure to define those you do use on first appearance.
- Avoid jargon whenever possible. If necessary, include context/definitions. Grant proposal writing is fairly distinct from writing for academic journals and other outlets.
- Shy away from flourishes when possible. Your writing ought to captivate the reviewer with project merits.
Develop a timeline. To improve writing overall, set intermediate deadlines that will help you avoid the stresses of last-minute scrambling. Give yourself a bit more time than you think is necessary to allow for naturally occurring delays common in the writing process. As you build your timeline, anticipate possible flashes of “writer’s block” and incorporate time for editing. Paring down sections towards the end of the writing process is often necessary to meet RFP requirements and strengthen the clarity of your writing. This extra time also helps you catch those pesky grammatical errors and tpos [sic].
Contact Proposal Development Services (PDS). The professionals in PDS specialize in the craft of grantsmanship. To maximize the competitiveness of IU Bloomington proposals for external funding, PDS customizes services to the individual needs of the faculty member. To submit a request for support, download and complete the service request form, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.