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Academic Writing vs' Grant Writing


Seminar 3: Writing a Strong Proposal Summary ... writers cannot afford to lose even one reviewer in a barrage of obtuse phrasing... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Academic Writing vs' Grant Writing

Academic Writing vs.Grant Writing
  • MALRC Seminar Series 1
  • November 4, 2008
  • Presented by Robyn Pearson
  • Office of Proposal Development

MALRC Fall 2008 Seminars
  • Seminar 1 Introductions and Grant Writing Basics
  • Seminar 2 How to Find Research Funding
  • Seminar 3 Writing a Strong Proposal Summary
  • Seminar 4 Peer Review of Round 8 Fellows
    Project Summaries
  • Seminar 5 Grant Writing Summary

Grant Writing Basics
  • Why Academics Have a Hard Time Writing Good Grant
  • By Robert Porter, Ph.D., Virginia Tech
  • This paper was presented as part of the 2006
    Symposium at the annual October meeting of the
    Society of Research Administrators International
    in Quebec City, which it was awarded Best Paper
    of the Year.
  • The Journal of Research Administration, Vol.
    XXXVIII, November 2, 2007. http//

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Scholarly Pursuit
  • Individual passion
  • Past Oriented
  • Work that has been done
  • Theme-centered
  • Theory and thesis
  • Expository Rhetoric
  • Explaining to reader
  • Impersonal Tone
  • Objective, dispassionate
  • Individualistic
  • Primarily a solo activity
  • Few Length Constraints
  • Verbosity rewarded
  • Specialized Terminology
  • Insider jargon
  • Sponsor Goals
  • Service attitude
  • Future Oriented
  • Work that should be done
  • Project-centered
  • Objectives and activities
  • Persuasive Rhetoric
  • Selling the reader
  • Personal Tone
  • Convey excitement
  • Team-focused
  • Feedback needed
  • Strict Length Constraints
  • Brevity rewarded
  • Accessible Language
  • Easily understood

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Scholarly Pursuit vs. Sponsor Goals
  • With the exception of a few career development
    programs, funding agencies have little interest
    in advancing the careers of ambitious academics.
    Sponsors will, however, fund projects that have a
    good chance of achieving their goals.
  • As one successful grant writer put it My
    epiphany came when I realized that grant programs
    do not exist to make me successful, but rather my
    job is to make those programs successful.

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Past vs. Future Orientation
  • In academic writing, the researcher is
    describing work that has already been done
  • Grant writers, by contrast, describe in detail
    work that they wish to do good grant writing can
    be viewed as science fiction, i.e., it must be
    grounded in solid science, but the research
    design itself is a set of logical yet imagined
    activities that have yet to take place.

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Theme-centered vs. Project-centered
  • Academic writing focuses on theme, thesis, and
    theory, while grant writing centers on a world
    of action. They start by sketching out an
    important problem to describing a creative
    approach to addressing that problem with a set of
    activities that will accomplish specific goals
    and objectives. The overall project is designed
    to make a significant contribution to a
    discipline or to a society as a whole.

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Theme-centered vs. Project-centered (continued)
  • Sponsors will fund activities to accomplish
    goals that are important to them, not just the
    thinking of the investigator.
  • academic essays end with their authors final
    conclusions, while grant proposals end with their
    projects expected outcomes.

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Expository vs. Persuasive Rhetoric
  • a good proposal is an elegant sales pitch.
  • Academic writing uses language to explain ideas,
    issues and events to the reader to build a
    logical progression of thought.
  • Grant writing must sell a nonexistent project to
    the reader. The writer has to convince the
    reviewer that the proposed research is uniquely
    deserving. The whole effort is geared toward
    building a winning argument, a compelling case
    that scarce dollars should be spent on a truly
    exceptional idea that has an excellent chance for

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Impersonal vs. Personal Tone
  • Academic writers scholars have been
    conditioned to generate prose in proper academic
    style cautious, objective and dispassionate,
    exclusively focused on the topic, with all
    evidence of the writers persona hidden from
  • Grant writers seek the reviewers
    enthusiastic endorsement they want readers to be
    excited about their exemplary projects, so they
    strive to convey their own excitement using
    active voice, strong energetic phrasing, and
    direct references to themselves in first person.

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Solo Scholarship vs. Teamwork
  • With the exception of co-authored work, academic
    writing is mostly a solo activity. the overall
    endeavor is highly individualistic.
  • Good grant writing, however, requires teamwork
    from the outset. Because their ultimate success
    depends upon nearly unanimous approval from a
    sizeable group of reviewers, grant writers place
    high value on feedback at every phase of proposal
  • A team approach is especially critical in
    development of large multi-investigator proposals

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Length vs. Brevity
  • Brevity is not only the soul of wit it is the
    essence of grantsmanship.
  • senior reviewers put qualities such as clear
    and concise at the top of the list.
  • Grant reviewers are impatient readers. they
    look for any excuse to stop reading. They are
    quickly annoyed if they must struggle to
    understand the writer or learn what the project
    is all about.
  • if the proposal does not intrigue them by the
    very first page, they will not read any further
    (unless they must submit a written critique, in
    which case they immediately start looking for
    reasons to justify why the proposal should not be

Contrasting Perspectives
  • Specialized Terminology vs. Accessible Language
  • Every discipline uses specialized terminology.
    reaches a point where specialized words become
    needlessly complex and the reader becomes lost in
    a tangle of dense verbiage.
  • Grant writers cannot afford to lose even one
    reviewer in a barrage of obtuse phrasing. must
    use language that can be understood by a diverse
    group of readers, some of whom may not be as
    highly specialized as the writer.
  • Use fewer words with greater clarity use
    accessible language to teach a general readership
    about complex subjects while simultaneously
    informing them of cutting edge developments.

Where to Find Help
  • Office of Proposal Development
  • http//
  • Five strategies (Porter 2007)
  • Home-Grown Workshops
  • Reading Successful Proposals
  • Editing by a Grants Specialist
  • Red Team Reviews
  • Writing Tips

Next week
  • How to Find Research Funding (Nov 11)
  • Review of major funders of health disparities
    research (federal and private)
  • Review of internet resources to aid your search
  • Hands-on funding search based on Fellows
    individual topics
  • Homework identify three potential sources of
    funding for your project to be presented at next
    seminar, Nov. 18