Writing Skills Grants 101

Be Consistent

May 12, 2022

Dear Research Strategists:

Here’s a simple strategy for standing out in grant writing: be consistent. Consistency is a cornerstone of good storytelling. Consider any good children’s book. In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks always finds two things she hates and one thing that’s “just right.” This is the pattern for Goldilocks across porridge, chairs, and beds. 

Many scholars write inconsistent grants. Sometimes this happens because you think you need to keep your language “fresh” and “interesting.” That’s a mistake. Grants are not fiction. Reviewers do not care about your turns of phrase. They care about your IDEAS. 

Inconsistency takes attention away from your ideas. Imagine that Goldilocks walked into the bedroom and the first bed was “just right.” You’d wonder why the pattern changed. You’d wonder if this was intentional or a mistake. That minor inconsistency snatched your attention away from the story. 

Consistency takes work. Here are a few places to start:

  • Terms. Always use the same terms. If you write that you will evaluate “biological sequencing data,” use this term throughout your grant. Don’t change terms by saying “the sequencing of biological data” or “data sequencing in biology.” Changed terms create a burden for reviewers. Reviewers spend time trying to figure out why your terms changed. 
  • Aims. If you used Aims 1, 2, and 3 in your grant, lay out every section of your grant in this order. Your literature review should describe the rationale for Aims 1, 2, and 3, in that order. Same for your research plan, timeline, etc. (You’re channeling Goldilocks. Reviewers should be able to anticipate the order of information as they walk through each section of your grant.) 
  • Ideas. Present ideas in the same order each time. For example, if you talk about morbidity and mortality, always present morbidity data first, then mortality data. Do not switch the order to give mortality data then morbidity data. That’s inconsistent.
  • Numbers and Figures. Scholars often forget to apply consistency techniques to numbers and figures. Check that all of the previous bullets (terms, aims, and ideas) are applied to your numbers and figures as well. 

Grab your checklist of these strategies here. If you’re looking for in depth training, I’m launching a Fundamentals of Grant Writing course online in July. Mark your calendars! I’ll cover how to develop and pitch ideas, find the right funder, and write so reviewers can advocate for you. I’ll share more details in a future newsletter. 

Thanks for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas.


Twitter: twitter.com/BettySLai

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P.S. If you know someone who might benefit from this newsletter, would you mind forwarding it to them? Sharing strategies is one way we make academia a place of growth and joy. 

P.P.S. What are your hobbies? I’m picking up crochet again. I’m so proud of this bunny I made!