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Habit #5: Attend to Critical Details

Habit #5On days when I’m especially frustrated with the minutia of life, I can hear my mother saying, “The Devil’s in the details!” Even though I heard her say it a lot as I was growing up, I never really knew what it meant, except that I thought it was her way of telling me I needed to be more careful and more thoughtful in what I did.

What I rapidly realized as I got older was that attending to details can make or break your success in many occupations, including grant writing. For grant writers, attending to details completely determines your success! Let’s take a moment and examine why, if you want to be a successful grant writer, attending to critical details is so important.

After you’ve submitted your proposal, readers review it and score it. The higher your score, the more likely you are to receive funding for your project or program.

Which means… every point counts! Some proposals are funded simply because they scored one point higher than another proposal.

Let’s explore 20 critical details related to the general style, content, and submission of your proposal that are critical to its success.

  1. Be sure to follow – exactly – the directions from the funder for proposal margins, spacing, font, font size, paper size, and proposal length. If the font and font size aren’t stipulated in the Request for Proposals (RFP), use ones that are easy to read (i.e., 12-point Arial or New Times Roman). Unless otherwise specified in the RFP, set all page margins at 1 inch.
  2. Left-justify your pages, but don’t right-justify them. You might believe that right-justified margins look nice, but they’re more difficult for proposal readers to read. And remember, it’s your job to make the reader’s job easy!
  3. Highlight key information by using bullets, italics, headings, subheadings, boldface type, color, borders, charts, tables, or graphs. Doing this makes it easy for readers to find important information.
  4. When using graphs or charts, be sure it takes readers no more than five seconds to interpret them. Don’t make them complicated. Simplicity is important.
  5. Unless you have severe space limitations or the RFP specifies that your proposal be double-spaced, set your line spacing at 1.5 and break up the narrative with one hard return between paragraphs.
  6. To help guide proposal readers through the narrative, systematically use headings and subheadings that draw attention to each important point in the proposal. Use the same headings and organize your proposal in the same order that the information is presented in the RFP or funder’s guidelines.
  7. Provide citations for all sources and references you use in your proposal.
  8. Try to limit your sentences to no more than 15 words, and your paragraphs to no more than four or five sentences. This helps keep your thoughts simple and your writing clear and concise.
  9. Leave plenty of white space in your proposals. White space is easier on proposal readers’ eyes.
  10. Number the pages of your proposal so readers may easily access information. Page numbers should be the same size font as you use in your proposal narrative.
  11. Don’t rely on Spellcheck or Grammarly to catch all spelling and grammatical errors. Ask a colleague who is good at editing, or hire an editor, to read your proposal prior to submitting it to the potential funder.
  12. Spell out all acronyms the first time they’re used in each proposal section. Don’t expect readers to remember what an acronym stands for that they saw several pages ago in your proposal.
  13. If your proposal is longer than 15 pages, including a Table of Contents will make readers’ jobs much easier. It’s a very useful tool for them. They’ll be able to more quickly locate information they’re looking for in your proposal.
  14. If a Readers’ Evaluation Tool is included in the RFP, use it. It’s your best friend! This tool identifies how readers will score your proposal, the maximum number of points each proposal section can receive, and the order in which the information should be provided in the proposal. With this tool, you’ll be able to double-check that you included everything in your proposal that’s vital.
  15. Before you submit your proposal, give it to an objective colleague who knows nothing about your proposed project and ask him/her to read it for clarity and understanding. Carefully respond to any suggestions, questions, or comments made by this individual before submitting it to the potential funder.
  16. Set your production timelines so you review the final draft after you’ve taken a break away from it of at least a day. Recheck its content and order against the RFP before making your final copies.
  17. If you’re required to submit hard copies of your proposal, provide the exact number of copies requested by the funder in the RFP. If you’re required to submit your proposal electronically, double-check that you’ve followed all the RFP guidelines for online submission.
  18. Submit your proposal on or before the deadline date. If you submit your proposal after the deadline it usually won’t be read or scored and you’ll have no chance of getting funded.
  19. If your proposal doesn’t get funded, don’t get discouraged. Keep trying and keep improving.
  20. If your proposal does get funded, use it as a reference for future proposals. Learn from your successes, and continue to refine a template from your winning grant proposals that you can use for future proposals.

Attend to these critical details to help ensure you get the highest possible score from proposal readers. Higher scores can translate into more proposals getting funded and more money and resources coming into your school!

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