University of Southern Indiana

Grant Writing Tips

Here are some grant writing tips from , professor of communication studies and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning fellow for undergraduate research.

Successful grant writers have an entrepreneurial attitude in that they are always looking for funding opportunities to further personal, professional, or civic goals.   They understand that success is achieved through adequate preparation, efficient research, and knowledge about their subject.  And finally, successful grant seekers don't fear mistakes as they have the ability to learn from mistakes and make adjustments so that they might try again.  As you consider preparing a RISC Grant, consider these ideas.  And don't be afraid to ask questions.

  1. Know about the grant.
    1. Read about the program sponsoring the grant.  Do the goals and philosophies of the program relate to the project's goals, purpose, and budgetary needs?
    2. Read the grant guidelines carefully. Read these at least 3-4 times.  Have a soda and snack and read 'em again. Know every direction and carefully follow them all.  
    3. Makes notes as you read.  This kind of annotating is helpful when writing the more detailed proposal. 
    4. Know the deadline; it will not budge.  Generally.
    5. If you are not sure about something ask your faculty advisor or contact a member of the RISC Committee.  We want to help you achieve your goals, so don't think you understand; know that you understand.
    6. Know your audience.  The RISC Committee is made up faculty members and administrators who write grants and research in every discipline; therefore, adapt your language and style to meet the needs of those not necessarily familiar with your discipline.  Avoid technical terms without an explanation.  Better yet, write the proposal in a professional way but use language that someone in another, completely different discipline will understand.
    7. Talk to someone who has received an award in the past.  Ask them about the feedback they received as they know what it takes to write a fundable and successful grant proposal.  Consider asking them to review it for you.  HINT:  Don't ask them to do this one hour before deadline.
  2. Suggestions about the planning
    1. Keep your ideas innovative, creative and educational.  Determine how your project will contribute to your educational goals.
    2. Establish realistic goals.  What can you accomplish in one or two semesters?
    3. Determine the benefits of your project.  Why is your project important?  Who will it impact?  How will you benefit?  Other participants benefit?  The University?  The community?
    4. Research.  Be thorough in conducting your research; identify scholarly resources to help contextualize your project within your discipline.  Cite sources that help you justify your project and situate your project as a valuable learning experience.  Don't be overly technical, but establish credibility.  We want to see that you have carefully considered the project.
    5. Consider how you will evaluate your project.  In some cases the project may involve collecting data or be graded by a faculty member, in other cases a more qualitative reflection may be the key.  Evaluation processes vary across the disciplines, so be sure to explain how your work can be assessed and explain the assessment method clearly so that it seems appropriate for the project. 
    6. Sharing scholarship is important; after all, if the discovery is not communicated how might the work be useful or contribute to learning?  So.  Tell us how you will share the information. Don't forget: All RISC Grantees must share their work at the Showcase at the end of the academic year.
  3. Carefully determine your budget
    1. Make sure that it seems reasonable.
    2. Remember that a budget is the best estimate of how much your program or project will cost.  Thus, it is the numerical story, so those numbers must be explained in the budget narrative. 
    3. List vendors, prices and amounts.  Reviewers find interpreting the budget easier when you group use headings to illustrate a grouping for similar expenses (i.e., "office supplies" vs. "pens, glue, poster board, etc."  Be sure to explain every expenditure in your narrative.  Why that certain kind of art paper?  Chemical? Software?
    4. Use University formulae to estimate travel expenses.  Make sure you explain how materials will be used.  Beware: the first items committees eliminate from budgets are those not covered in the guidelines or those that have no rationale.
    5. If you are getting financial support elsewhere, 'fess up and show how this grant will fund items not supported with those funds.
  4. Now you are ready to write the proposal
    1. Make your case immediately.   In one or two sentences introduce the project and explain the need.  Then elaborate on these sentences by explaining potential impact and benefit.
    2. Include a time line for your project.  What are target dates for various tasks?  A time line shows that you have a plan for the project rather than some vague idea about being done prior to graduation.
    3. Write clearly and concisely.  Read your drafts aloud (maybe to an audience).  If something reads awkward to you, the author, you can bet it sounds strange to those reviewing proposals.
    4. A one-paragraph proposal does not a proposal make.  Elaborate on your idea by showing how the project contributes to learning--or your field.  If reviewers don't know enough about the project, they tend to refuse funding so grant proposals are not the place for cryptic or ambiguous language.
    5. Whatever the methodology, describe your process.  Connect that process to the best practices in your disciplines.  So, don't just tell what you want to achieve, explain how you will achieve it.
    6. Each idea in your proposal should relate to the grant program's goals.
    7. Proof read drafts over and over.  Have someone else--other than the computerized grammar and spell checker--proofread your proposal.
    8. Don't whine, and don't exaggerate but be compelling.  Demonstrate the need for your particular project.  What makes your especially deserving?
    9. Do not procrastinate.  Do the grant immediately.  Start planning your project as you read these suggestions.
    10.  Make the proposal reader friendly--but follow all guidelines.  Reviewers should be able to clearly identify your purpose, goals, methods, and relevance.
    11. You may want to completely re-write your proposal summary or introduction after you have written the complete proposal.  Sometimes you are better able to frame the proposal after you have completely laid out the project.
  5. So, you got the grant!
    1. You planned the work, now work the plan.
    2. Be organized and prepared to start the project immediately.  If you have written an honest proposal, you should be ready to launch your project when the money is available.
    3. Learn how the money is disbursed.
    4. Set up a system for record keeping so that you can justify and explain every expenditure.
    5. Document everything and save all copies until the completion of the project.  They may be helpful in writing the final report submitted to the RISC Committee.

Contact Sally Vogl-Bauer


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