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February 2004 Issue

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Grant Proposals: Communicating to the Reader

By Bruce Steele, North Dakota State University 

Email: Bruce.Steele@ndsu.nodak.edu

Once a grantor receives a proposal, someone reviews and decides whether to offer an award.  A common term for such a person is “reader.”  The decision-making process may be as simple as a single reader approval, or as complicated as a panel of geographically separated readers rating proposals electronically.  The smaller the granting organization, the more likely one or two people will review proposals for final approval.  The larger the granting organization, the more likely a panel of contracted readers will recommend approval to someone in the hierarchy.

Readers have diverse experiences and training in proposal reviews.  Some read up to six proposals a year while others read two dozen in one week.  Some proposals are six pages in length while others are 200 pages in length.   Like their reading experience, personalities, attitudes, and values are just as diverse.  They have good days and they have bad days.  In other words, they are human. 

Your job as a grant writer is to communicate your needs precisely to readers.  Part of your job is to make the readers’ job easier on them.  After all, who wants a confused, frustrated, reader making grant-selection decisions?  Following are tips to help you to communicate to grant readers:

·        Create and maintain a current checklist covering the items grantors require in their proposal applications.  Do you have a complete needs assessment?  Is there a methodology section?  Do you have clear goals and objectives?  How about appendices?  Are you submitting the proposal according the grantor’s instructions?  Check (and date) these items as you do them.  Then review your checklist along with the proposal just prior to submission.

·        Use the same sequence of sections as found in calls (announcements) for proposals.  Readers have a copy of the same grantor’s requirements that you have.  It stands to reason that they will follow the sections in the same sequence presented by the grantor.  If the program goals section is first, the needs assessment section second, and section on budget is third, you follow the same sequence in your proposal. 

·        Use multiple acronyms very sparingly.  Otherwise, you risk a communication block between you and your reader.  Returning to previous pages to look up meanings of acronyms breaks the flow of thought and is a major distraction to the reader. 

·        Visuals (graphs, charts, maps, and tables) need to be readable.  Resist the practice of cramming 6-point font text into small tables.  Use color, especially on graphs or maps.  Double check all reference points in text against each visual to ensure the two matches.  If a reference leads the reader to page nine to see a graph, make sure the graph is on page nine.  Also, be consistent when labeling visuals. 

·        Proofread, proofread, proofread.  If it looks OK, it probably isn’t.  Have someone outside of your organization objectively read your proposal for constructive criticism.

·        Unless you personally know the individuals reviewing your proposal, never assume they as readers know anything about you or your organization.  Many readers only have a general overview of grantors and applicants’ missions.  Although they may be “peer-reviewers,” assume readers have no working knowledge of your organization.  Therefore, write the proposal accordingly.

There are ways to make grant proposal readers’ job easier on them.  The better your section sequence flows in the proposal along with easily found (and understood) information, the better chances you have of communicating with the reader.  Use available tools such as checklists and proofreaders to your advantage. Clear communication with your reader drastically increases your chances of receiving grant awards.

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