Grant Writing: Guidelines and Best Practices


Engage Your Audience: Write with the Reviewer in Mind

  • A happy reviewer is a positive reviewer. Think about your reviewers as you write and presume that they have already read many grant proposals as they come to yours and will not have the energy to struggle through disorganized, turgid prose.
  • You can make your application easier to review by organizing your content (have each new paragraph pick up logically where the previous one left off to make it flow). Make your discussion concise and precise. Avoid jargon, define acronyms and abbreviations, and use clear and unambiguous language.
  • Think of your proposal as a compelling story: get your reviewers as excited as you are about your field by describing the stakes, the context, and the potential knowledge translation. Do not annoy your reviewers by forcing them to struggle to understand your points. Use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph to inform them of what that paragraph will be about.
  • Formatting: Use logical, bold, numbered headings and paragraphs that are no longer than ¾ of a page so the reviewers can visually comprehend and navigate through the structure of your argument. Use italics sparingly to highlight key sentences or keywords. Use bullet points to break up blocks of text and to visually represent a well-defined step-by-step process.
  • Balance detailed descriptions of the science with a persuasive answer to the question “so what? Why does this research need to be carried out and how will it be ground-breaking in the context of your field?”
  • Language choices: Use words like “ground-breaking” and “cutting-edge,” as well as the future-tense “will” rather than the conditional “might” to emphasize your highly innovative approach and confidence in its success.
  • Do not assume that all of the reviewers will be experts in your particular field. Use language that will be understood by generalists, but that will also convince the experts on the review committee that you really know your stuff. Define technical terminology and acronyms.
  • Because you are so close to your own project and work in your field on a daily basis, you may need to consciously try to get perspective on it so you can clearly articulate to an outsider how your project is distinct, urgent, and innovative within the context of your field. Do not assume that the importance of your project is self-evident to reviewers. Context must be described and the ground-breaking nature made explicit.
  • Get to the point early: identify the research question, approach and likely outcomes within the first few pages. Describe the key elements of your proposed project before describing disciplinary context.
  • Provide Research Context: “While X has been achieved in this field thus far, our project will critically advance the field by doing Y.”
  • Future Tense: While you will need to address past research and training achievements, it is important that most of your discussion has a forward-looking focus and offers details for how you will achieve future results. Focusing on future achievements subtly implies that you are eager and capable of making further research breakthroughs.

Summaries are More Important than You Might Think

  • Summaries are used by committee members to determine their level of expertise for their review.
  • Summaries are used for the alignment review to determine the relevance of your proposal. If it is determined to be irrelevant, it will be withdrawn before it goes to review.
  • While it may be tempting to give these summaries short shrift, given all of the other tasks you must complete, they are among the most important parts of your application.
  • Use summaries at the end of sections and the end of long paragraphs throughout your proposal to wrap up key points or complex ideas, in order to make it easier for the reviewers to follow your train of thought.
  • Summaries guide your reviewers and allow you to reframe your project in the way you want, rather than leaving reviewers to struggle to summarize what they have read for themselves and perhaps misconstrue your goals/ambitions.