Robert Porter, who is director of Research Development at the University of Tennessee, conducted a workshop at Brock June 11, 2014 focusing on creating winning research proposals.
He began by contrasting academic writing – the “world of ideas” – with grant writing, which places a high emphasis on language that is easily understood by non-experts, talks about future actions, and uses persuasive, personal prose to “sell” ideas and convey excitement.
“The writing style and habits that make you successful as an academic are not quite the same set of writing skills that will make you successful as a grant writer,” he told workshop participants. “We have to break our writing habits and adopt a new set of writing skills.”
Using examples of comments made by actual reviewers and samples of past grant applications, Porter outlined a “12-step program” for researchers to follow when apply for grants.
Highlights of Porter’s presentation include:
• Before starting the process, flesh out the “problem” – an important need or issue that should be addressed, a gap between where we are now and where we could be, a limitation of current knowledge – and why the problem is important.
• Make sure your proposal matches the funding agency’s priorities. “You want the reviewer to see right away that what you want to do is exactly what that sponsor wants to pay for.”
• Use clear, direct language in an “active” voice, avoiding jargon and acronyms. “If reviewers don’t understand what you’ve written, they don’t blame themselves – they get annoyed at you.”
• Allocate more time than you think you need to put your application together, so that you can consult with Brock’s research officers and get others to proofread your work.