Tips for Writing a Successful Grant Proposal

At Willamette, opportunities abound for students to pursue independent research-from independent study courses, to university grants and foundation awards. When writing a grant proposal for an independent research project, you should keep the following tips in mind. And for further assistance, consult with your professors or make an appointment with the Writing Center.

Part I. Formulation
Early development can be key to the success of your proposal. Before you begin writing, think critically about your project.

Tip #1: Choose a good topic.
More easily said than done! Your faculty advisor should help you to narrow and clarify your topic, so that your proposal is specific, focused and more importantly, manageable. The best research topic, however, will be the one you're most excited about. If you aren't fascinated and galvanized by your research topic, your readers won't be excited either. And if you're bored with your topic before you've even begun your research, well, you're going to have a long, long summer.

Tip #2: Do your preliminary research.
Read widely in your subject area before you begin writing. Become familiar with the field, its principal issues, and major contributors. Put together an annotated bibliography. Consider what contribution your research will make. By the time you sit down to write your proposal, you should know what you want to research, but you should not yet be trying to synthesize your research.

Tip #3: Envision the final product.
Your project should result in a concrete final product, such as a written investigative report, or a creative work. Although you cannot fully anticipate what final form your project will take, it is important to have a vision of what it might be. If your project is an activity of some kind, devise a method to document it so that the committee will have concrete evidence of your work.

Part II. Composition
Writing the proposal is often the most difficult component of a research project. Be prepared: give yourself enough time to write, rewrite, and revise.

Tip #4: Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!
It can hardly be said too many times-brainstorm! Talk to friends, family, and faculty to clarify your ideas. Schedule a "pre-draft" advising session at the Writing Center. Freewrite as a way of getting your ideas on paper. Get your ideas down first; then think about how to organize them!

Tip #5: Study successful proposals.
Copies of successful Carson Research Grant proposals, and final reports, have been uploaded to the Academic Commons website (get there through the Hatfield Library webpage--there is a link on the main webpage for the Carson program, and also the main page for the library). Browse through the files, and examine two or three proposals on topics similar to yours. Study them carefully to get ideas for ways of presenting your project.

Tip #6: Be specific.
Take time to consider your research methods and plan a budget. Don't just guess and say, "Trip to Alaska: $500." Go online for a realistic estimate on airline tickets, accommodations, and other expenses. Approach your methodology and research timeline in the same way; if you need to make adjustments later, you can. It is important, though, that you convince the committee that not only is your project doable-you've figured out how to do it.

Part III. Revision
Revision is critical. Don't expect to write one draft of your proposal and be awarded a grant. A good proposal will take several revisions; be sure to give yourself time.

Tip #7: Be concise and organized.
Clearly differentiate the various parts of the proposal. For instance, in your methodology section, talk only about your methodology. Leave out extraneous information.

Tip #8: Be clear.
The awards committee consists of faculty from a variety of academic disciplines. Your proposal should not be so discipline-specific and jargon-laden that outside readers won't understand. On the other hand, don't dumb your language down so that you insult the educated reader. If necessary, the committee will ask a specialist for an opinion on the project's viability. As you revise, consult a variety of readers, both in your discipline and outside it.

Part IV. Editing
Reread your proposal several times before submitting to the committee.

Tip #9: Avoid errors.
Because errors are easily introduced during the revision process, be sure to reread your text carefully each time you make changes. There is no excuse for grammatical and spelling errors in a grant proposal. Use spell checker by all means, but don't rely on it completely. There's no substitute for careful proofreading.

Tip #10: Make it pretty.
Take some time to format your proposal neatly, with headings and sub-headings where appropriate. A good layout is easier on the eyes of committee members who will be reading many proposals. Word of warning: don't go cutesy, with bright-colored paper and fancy fonts.

There you have it: ten tips to help you write a successful grant proposal. But keep in mind-even if you do everything right, there's still an element of luck. In the world of grant applications, your chances of success depend also on the number and quality of proposals in your subject area. If your proposal isn't accepted, don't view it as a personal attack on your research abilities or your topic. If your project is viable, look for funding from another source. And best of luck!

Willamette University

Student Academic Grants and Awards

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

Back to Top