The Development Source

Develop Winning Grant Proposals by Revising your Writing

The proposal profession has benefited greatly from Steve Shipley and his company, Shipley Associates.  Mr. Shipley and his colleagues not only provide outstanding proposal services to companies, but they also convey their knowledge and passion for wining proposals in excellent publications and presentations. 

Shipley Associates’ Proposal Guide for Business Development and Sales Professionals (I have the second edition from 2003) is the clearest, most succinct, and most helpful guide to doing proposals available.  I strongly recommend this book to any proposal professional. 

Brad Douglas, a Shipley Associate, has excellent advice about writing winning proposals.  He recommends a very sensible five-step writing process:

  • Plan:  Think through your proposal section.
  • Organize:  Use the customer requirements as your outlining guide.
  • Write:  Write in a free-flowing manner.
  • Examine:  Walk away from your writing and review it later while letting others review it too.
  • Revise:  Emphasize clarity, conciseness, correctness, and persuasiveness.

I already have discussed planning, organizing, writing, and examining your grants prose.  In this blog, I will discuss the last step – revision – which should involve three basic principles:  (1) be clear; (2) be concise; and (3) be correct and compliant. 

Be Clear

  • Get to the point quickly.
  • Keep the focus on the funder.
  • Organize according to the importance of the grant guidelines.
  • Highlight key information by using bold, call-out boxes, bulleted and numbered lists, good graphics, and other techniques.

I want to stress writing in the active voice, one of my favorite pieces of advice.  Too many grant proposals are written in the passive voice, which creates ambiguity and makes evaluation difficult.  Use active verbs to show the subjects of your sentences undertaking some action and you will help achieve clarity in your prose. 

Be Concise

  • As you edit, reduce the total number of words in your prose.
  • Delete fluff.
  • Focus on the essentials and key points.

I want to stress the slim-fast approach to editing.  For me, editing means paring down your prose to its bare essentials.  Editing should reduce, not expand, the size of your grant proposal.

Be Correct and Compliant.

  • Check your narrative against the grant guidelines’ evaluation criteria.
  • Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation using multiple reviewers.

Time is a key element in this stage.  If you keep reviewing your drafts one after the other, you will miss many mistakes that inevitably creep into proposals.  Walk away from your draft for a day and you will be surprised about how many mistakes jump out at you the next time you read it.

If you following these steps in revising your proposal writing, you should be able to produce a very good final version of your proposal sections.

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