Grant Writing Workshop: Writing Successful Grants

The UF Office of Research recently hosted a two-day grant writing workshop presented by Dr. Robert Porter of GrantWinners Seminars. This article summarizes the topic of “Writing Successful Grants.”

Most grant reviewers make a decision about a proposal after reading the first page. In general, the writing style of a successful grant consists of about 80% academic (i.e., formal expository writing) and 20% grant writing style (i.e., persuasive writing). Grant writing style focuses on the sponsor and the service you plan to provide. The language is accessible to a broad audience and sells the reader. You want to emphasize what is interesting to the grant reviewer and what the sponsor wants to accomplish.

Specifically, reviewers are looking for the following:

  • Significance
  • Creativity (uniqueness)
  • Clearly delineated project
  • Research plan (methodology)
  • Outcomes (evaluation)
  • Clear, concise writing

Writing successful grants is a 12-step program. First admit you could use some help. Then follow the strategies provided below.

Here are some common pitfalls and strategies to avoid them:

1. Poor Fit

  • Develop your funding search skills.
  • Study program goals and eligibility.
  • Make contact with the program officer before starting the proposal.

2. Poor Organization

  • Always follow the guidelines and requirements provided by the sponsor.
  • Be sure your proposal is in the specified format.

3. Weak Argument

  • Prove the importance of your project.
  • State your purpose and case for need up front.
  • Build a compelling argument.
  • Cite authoritative sources.
  • Start with the pitch.
  • Layout the problem and solution.
  • Create a vision.

4. Gyrating Jargon

  • Assume an uninformed but intelligent reader.
  • Use clear, accessible language.
  • Stick with direct statements and active voice.
  • Avoid insider jargon and undefined acronyms.

5. Murky Goals and Objectives

  • Provide a goal statement (i.e., a general statement of the project’s overall purpose).
  • Formulate specific measurable objectives (i.e., a specific, measurable outcome or milepost).

6. Unclear Project Description and Work Plan

  • Visualize the overall project with a drawing (e.g., logic model).
  • Specify major tasks and timelines (e.g., Gantt charts, flow charts, calendars).

7. Deviating from Guidelines

  • Follow the application instructions exactly.
  • Submit before the deadline.
  • Be sure you meet the required page limits.
  • Follow all formatting requirements (i.e., fonts, margins, spacing)
  • Check that you have included all required sections.
  • Be sure you have the required signatures.

8. Ignoring the Review Criteria

  • Pay attention to all review criteria.
  • Read the evaluation standards carefully. Then reference them in the project narrative.
  • Touch all the bases—not just the ones you are comfortable with.
  • Remember reviewers will use the criteria to “score” your proposal.

9. Weak Abstract

  • Polish the abstract.
  • Write the abstract last.
  • The abstract must
    1. be intriguing;
    2. reflect the entire scope of the project;
    3. be concise and complete;
    4. summarize the project purpose and method;
    5. convey (a) what you intend to do, (b) why it is important, (c) what are the expected outcomes, (d) how the work will be accomplished.
  • The abstract may be the only narrative that some reviewers will read.

10. Writing Solo

  • Ask seasoned colleagues for comments and suggestions.
  • They should be qualified to critique proposal content.
  • Check your ego at the door.
  • Allow time for rewrites.

11. Document Errors

  • Find an eagle-eyed perfectionist.
  • Proofreaders read for form not content.
  • Must be someone who has no stake in the project.
  • Learn to love what he or she will do for you.
  • Zero tolerance—no error is too small to correct.
  • Root out inconsistencies in format as well as typos, misspellings, and grammar.

12. Insufficient Editing

  • Write, rewrite, and rewrite.
  • Most winning proposals have been polished repeatedly.
  • Let it rest in between; sleep on every rewrite.
  • Fight the evil pride of authorship.
  • Must allow sufficient time.

And finally, here are some additional tips for success:

  • Fit research and grant writing into your job.
  • Find a mentor(s).
  • Read successful grants and attend workshops.
  • Find collaborators; network.
  • Serve on a review panel.
  • Sign up for funding alerts; conduct your own searches regularly.
  • Think big, think small, think different.
  • Submit, revise, and resubmit.

Please look for additional summaries of workshop topics in upcoming issues of the Research Bulletin.

Session recordings are available online. Those who require copies of the handouts for any/all sessions may request them by emailing Jenn Hubbs at with their name, on-campus PO Box, and session(s) of interest.