Boost Your Grant Writing Skills
These are times of violence and despair. I wish you time to grieve, connect, and take action. I write this newsletter because scholars NEED to be heard. Research on gun violence was suppressed for 25 years. Grant funding matters. It drives research, policy, and media attention. We should be funding questions that matter for all of us.
Our hour was almost up. I was desperate. I’d tried having him hold the rail. Skating backwards and shouting encouragement. Even holding him up from behind and pushing him along. I finally broke out my phone and searched “how to teach a kid to ice skate.”
The answer was shockingly simple. “Try marching,” I told him. And just like that, my son was moving across the ice.
Grant writing is like teaching your kid to skate. You can puzzle through on your own. You’ll figure it out eventually. But you’re on the clock. You want funding now, when it will have the biggest impact on your career. Fast track your progress by learning strategies (e.g., try marching) from people who’ve gone before you.
Here’s one strategy: line edits. As I mentioned earlier, this means looking at individual sentences to identify problems and how to fix them.
First up, Dr. Peggy King-Sears (George Mason University) generously shared an example she uses in her grant writing courses. Read her example below. Identify problems with the example, and then revise the sentence. Answers from Dr. King-Sears and I are below.
Example. As researchers note the purpose for the special educator in co-taught classes is to promote learning for students with disabilities in that class (Fontana, 2005), all students with disabilities in the current study and most students without disabilities in the current study concurred that they learn more in the algebra class with two teachers and that in general, they learn better with two teachers.
- Dated citations. As Dr. King-Sears says, it is “Fine to note Fontana (2005) but also include more recent cites, particularly as "Researchers" plural was noted as the subject. Old cites can read as grant writer is not up to date in the field, and/or they were "dusting off" a previously submitted grant.”
- Too long. This sentence is so long it’s hard to understand. In general, keep sentences to three lines max. Reviewers read many grants at a time. Shorter sentences are easier for your tired reviewers.
- Point is unclear. It’s hard to figure out what the takeaway is for this sentence. Space is precious in your grants. Every sentence needs a succinct point.
Revised Sentence (A combination of Dr. King-Sears and my revisions). Students with and without disabilities generally learn better when they have two teachers in their classes (Fontana, 2005; More Recent Cite, 2021).
Your revised sentence may be different from ours. That’s what happens when a sentence is unclear. Reviewers draw different conclusions about what you mean. In contrast, notice that the revised sentence is unlikely to lead to multiple interpretations. That’s your goal in grant writing. Make your point clear. You don’t want reviewers to struggle through your writing. You want them to grapple with your ideas.
Here’s a handout for today’s exercise. Thank you so much to Dr. King-Sears for sharing her example and expertise. You can learn more about her work on Twitter. If today’s post was helpful to you, would you mind sharing it with a friend? Sharing strategies is one way we make sure scholars get the support they deserve for incredible ideas.
P.S. If you’re looking to build your experience faster, doors to my online grant writing course open June 16! I’ll be posting about the course in upcoming newsletters.
P.P.S. My son and I had so much fun (eventually) at his first skating session. We’re now a hockey family. It’s amazing to see skills develop over time. I wish you that same delight as you develop your grant writing skills.