10 writing tips to ace your grant proposal

Last Thursday night at the New York Foundation for the Arts, I had the pleasure of meeting 75 New York City artists and talking about how to make their next grant application more competitive. These are ten tips I shared that you might want to heed before you press send on your next grant proposal:

  1. Delete any qualifiers: very, really, sort of, kind of. 
  2. Describe your project in detail. Confirm as many of the aspects of it as possible. When you have numbers, use them. For example, can statistics support your case? If you’re interviewing people, how many are you interviewing?
  3. Write in your own natural voice, not a stilted, academic voice that you think might sound “smart.” (This is why getting interviewed helps.  Have a supportive friend or colleague interview you about your project. Have someone take notes while you talk. Often, you will talk using words and phrases you might never write down.)
  4. Use concrete nouns and active verbs.  Be as specific and colorful as possible.
  5. Use the “active voice” rather than the “passive voice.” A classic example of the passive voice is “Mistakes were made.” It’s passive because you can’t tell from the sentence who made the mistake. The passive voice if used to obscure, which is the opposite of what you want to do in your grant application.
  6. In general, the fewer adverbs and adjectives, the better.  So, rather than describing how beautiful, stupendous, incredible, wonderful your project is, describe it like a journalist. Stick to the facts but use the most colorful words to describe those facts.
  7. Less is more: One right word is often more powerful than three right words. 
  8. Use sensory details whenever possible that describe taste, smell, sight, sound or touch. Make images with your words.
  9. Write to your (real or imagined) perfect audience member.  Think of a person who would love your project, write the grant application to them. Or describe it as if you’re writing a letter to a friend.
  10. Remember your attitude: This project will happen. Change your verbs "could," "should" or "might" to "will."  Describe the project as if it's already happening. 

Thank you, Alicia Ehni, Program Associate NYFA Learning, for taking photos.