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SPIE Professional July 2007

Five Ways to Improve Your Grant Proposals

Use these tips to make your research proposals more attractive to funders.

By Kathryn Pyle Krages

You may have an exciting and innovative research project that you want funded. Don’t let the writing sidetrack your proposal reviewers. These grant writing tips will let your writing style and format enhance your proposal.

1. Remember, you are writing a persuasive document.

A technical report is informative. In a grant proposal, you are marketing yourself and your research ideas. You want the proposal reviewers to believe that your project is worth funding. Make it clear how your research work is innovative and exciting, and how it builds on previous work.

Your proposal should sound enthusiastic but not overwhelming. Use transitions between paragraphs to keep your readers’ attention. Topic sentences will let reviewers know the main ideas of each paragraph. Pay special attention to preparing your abstract or summary. Reviewers should have a clear sense of your project’s significance simply by reading the abstract.

2. Write with consistency.

When a group prepares a grant proposal, the writing style may vary from section to section. Before you begin the writing process, try to get agreement on writing style fundamentals. For example, will you all write in the first person using “we”? Before submitting the proposal, take the time to have an editor or a member of the proposal team go through the entire proposal to make it sound like one voice.

As you write, beware of switching verb tenses needlessly. Also be consistent in your use of terms, numbers, and the like. I have seen investigators write “2 methods” in one sentence and “six criteria” in the next.

3. Make sure your proposal is clear.

Define acronyms and abbreviations at the beginning of the proposal, even common ones you think everyone would know. Some people might think scientific jargon will enhance a grant proposal, but your grant reviewers might not be familiar with certain terms. Ask a colleague in a related field to read your proposal for clarity.

4. Pay attention to evaluation criteria.

You may think you have a great idea for a research project, but reviewers often have to rate grant proposals on very specific criteria. If the Request for Proposals (RFP) lists evaluation criteria, make sure that you have addressed all of those areas in your proposal. Make it easy for proposal reviewers to find your responses by using section headers that correspond to the order of the evaluation criteria.

It is also effective to use the language found in the RFP. If the RFP wants you to address monitoring of hypertension, don’t talk about high blood pressure.

Put yourself in a reviewer’s shoes: Does your proposal answer all the questions a reviewer might have about your project?

5. Proofread your proposal (more than once!).

A misspelling here, a typo there—what’s the big deal as long as the research plan is sound? Sloppy mistakes in a grant proposal can communicate a lack of attention to detail to proposal reviewers. Don’t let them think that this sloppiness would carry over to your research project. Find someone not associated with the writing of the proposal to conduct a careful proofreading. Don’t depend on a spellchecker; it can’t tell the difference between “there” and “their.”

As you proofread, pay attention to the proposal formatting requirements. There are enough horror stories floating around about the institution that didn’t receive a grant because the proposal margins were too narrow. With most federal proposals now being submitted electronically, grants.gov systems now check for adherence to the formatting requirements.


Kathryn Pyle Krages
Kathryn Pyle Krages, AMLS, MA, is assistant professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Krages will teach the course “The Craft of Scientific Presentations: A Workshop on Technical Presentations” on 29 August at the upcoming Optics + Photonics symposium. Anyone can attend the event, and students may attend for free. Read more about the course at SPIE.org/krages.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200707.04

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