Once researchers have an innovative idea at hand, acquiring resources for implementation becomes the center of their attention. They spend months curating highly competitive grant proposals that will hopefully secure them much needed funding. Working with hundreds of such hopeful and dedicated applicants enables us to note different trends that are worth focusing on for improving grant proposals in the future. One such trend refers to the writing of the actual proposal. To put it simply – researchers can have the most innovative research ideas, but if the proposal itself isn’t clear it won’t get them anywhere. Sloppy or unfocused writing can completely obscure any innovative idea, and this can ultimately ruin chances for funding. We’ve put together our top EU grant writing tips guide for this exact reason. Continue reading to learn helpful tips for curating a clear and comprehensible grant proposal.

Always keep the reviewers in mind

Above everything else, the leading thought for applicants when preparing their proposal needs to be the point of view of the reviewers. At the end of the day – the reviewers decide whether the grant will be awarded. Every sentence, structure, paragraph, and overall flow of the proposal needs to keep them in mind.

Two important points to note here:

  1. Reviewers come from different nationalities spanning all across the world (not even limited to Europe). This means that English is not always their mother tongue.
  2. Reviewers must navigate through multiple proposals in a short period of time. This means a lot of reading and comprehending on their end. If they don’t understand something due to the way the proposal was written, this can risk the chances for passing to the next round of evaluation.

Do not make the reviewers work harder than they have to. Their time is of the essence and the majority of reviewers will make up their minds very quickly. So – how can we ensure our proposal will run smoothly by the them? Read on to learn our top grant writing tips.

Top grant writing tips 

The following is our list of important grant writing tips to keep in mind when writing a proposal:

  1. Always start with a clear message explaining what the project is about. This is what interests the reviewers first (“What am I reading? What is the aim of the project?”). We recommend to avoid long background texts in the beginning of the proposal, and to get to the point as soon as possible (preferably in the first page of the application). Making a positive impression on the reviewers from the start can help the chances of them having a positive “emotional feedback” about the proposal throughout the review process.
  2. Have a clear outline of the proposal. Outlining the proposal prior to writing it ensures text flow from one part to the other. In this way all ideas are coherent and come together. The result is that the overall story will be smooth and clear for the reviewers. Without an outline, the proposal will feel very “patchy” and unprofessional.
  3. Create a proposal that is pleasant on the eyes. Use headings and subheadings to break up long paragraphs, bullet points to simplify long lists, and avoid “double spaces”. The use of “white space” will provide reviewers a chance to rest their eyes. A proposal that overwhelms reviewers with endless chunks of text is not one they will find appealing.
    1. Tip: Notice the overall layout of this post as an example.
  4. Active Vs. Passive voice. When structuring a new sentence, first decide whether the focus is on the “doer” (the individual, PI, who is the one doing the work). If it is important, speak in active voice. If it is not important, use passive voice instead.
    1. Example : Data were collected from 500 patients OR The researcher collected data from 500 patients. The passive voice in the first sentence (doer not important) and the active voice in the second (doer important) is clear through these examples. The focus needs to be apparent through whichever voice you choose, and this will also be what the reviewers focus on.
  5. Use simple words. Research writing explaining the science behind any innovative idea will undoubtedly include complicated terms which reviewers may not be entirely familiar with. Wherever it is possible, simplify the language and use words that are easy to understand.
  6. Less is more. Cut unnecessary words and write clearly. Explaining an important point thoroughly does not necessarily mean using a lot of words. Sometimes – saying something with less words actually makes it much easier to understand. Keep this in mind as you write.
  7. Avoid repetition. Try repeating the same words or notions only if something important must be stressed. Otherwise, it can be quite boring for reviewers to experience repetition.
  8. One paragraph per subtopic.  Even if this means shorter, or very short, paragraphs – make sure each paragraph only focuses on one subject. Multiple subjects per paragraph result in very long readings and can easily confuse the reviewers.
  9. The most important information must come first. Whether it’s the beginning of the paragraph, or sentence itself, the main focus point needs to come first. This will show the reviewers what to focus on as well. Saving the important information to the end may result in reviewers overlooking some very important focal points of the proposal.
  10. Vary sentence length between short, medium, or long sentences. Most researchers tend to write only very long and expressive sentences that are packed with information. This is incredibly difficult for reviewers as they spend a lot of time dissecting each sentence into shorter parts. Do the hard work for them. Structure each paragraph with sentences of varying lengths. (Just like this one).
    1. Tip: once you have a first draft, use three different colored markers to mark: 1. Short sentences 2. Medium sentences and 3. Long sentences. The colors will do the talking. It will be obvious what the overall picture is and what needs to be fixed or reduced.
  11. Last but certainly not least – set the proposal aside for some time and only then proofread. Researchers read and re-read their proposals more times than can be noted. At some point, this results in switching to autopilot when proofreading their work. This is a solid way to miss important issues that must be fixed in the proposal. Stepping away from the proposal for at least a week can help to avoid this.

Online sources to help review the proposal

Of course, once the proposal writing is through and you’ve checked all the above grant writing tips, there is nothing wrong with utilizing additional tools to ensure the proposal is in good shape. These days, the online world offers a multitude of great grammar and readability tools to run the proposal by. Grammarly’s grammar check and Hemingway’s readability scan are only but a few examples of the incredible selection which exists. Depending on budget and resources, there are both free and paid services. Whatever the choice, this can be an additional great way to strengthen the overall writing of the proposal. This is highly recommended.

The above grant writing tips touch on some of the more important components to focus on before, during and after the writing of the proposal. Keep in mind, these tips only touch on one aspect of the proposal writing process, and surely there are lots more. Tips on how to avoid annoying the reviewers during the grant review process can be found in the next dedicated post. For additional assistance on curating the content for the proposal, and understanding the unique requirements of what ERC or Horizon 2020 demand, continue reading through our Knowledge Base or contact us for additional information.

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