The main difference between winning and losing proposals is clarity. Panel reviewers read dozens, sometimes hundreds of applications, often with a short amount of time to review each proposal. If it is unclear what your project is, what it will look like, or why it matters, then it is unlikely your project will make it to the top. This doesn’t mean you need to have everything perfectly spelled out before you’ve even started the project, but it does require giving the grant-reviewing panel a strong idea of your proposed direction.
If you were to sit down with me to brainstorm a direction for a grant proposal, after you’ve determined the general project idea and reviewed the questions, I would ask, “What’s the story here?” Each answer is an opportunity to pull the reader in through storytelling. Does the project or idea stem from a particular incident that can form a unique hook? Differentiate your project from all of the other proposals by making it as unique as you are.
What I mean by story is start with a clear idea that you build and expand. Use structure to keep your writing on topic. Remember in high school when they taught you the three paragraph essay? At the time, I honestly thought this was something I would never need to use again. I actually used to copy my introduction paragraph in the conclusion spot to make it seem like I had written more because I’ve always thought I was a slow writer. Now, I just skip the conclusion paragraph altogether for brevity. The general structure though, I use all the time. Write a conceptual thesis, and then break it down into supporting paragraphs, and then support each of those paragraphs with specific evidence.
What that looks like in the form of a grant proposal is a broad overview of what the project is, that becomes increasingly more specific as you write. Supporting paragraphs can expand what it will look like, how you will make it, and even connect your theme to contemporary events. I’m of the opinion that every sentence of your proposal should be purposeful, focused point. If you go in too many directions, trying to nail down every possible interpretation, you risk clarity and possibly the readers interest.
It is better to write it simply, the way you would explain it to a complete stranger, than it is to is to veer into vague art speak. Then elevate your proposal with a dash of poetic language used sparingly for feeling. Ask your peers to describe your work and then keep that language in a document “word bank” that you can refer to when writing proposals for that added flair.
Once you have a solid project written out, look for ways to expand projects by re-using said applications. I call this recycling, and I do it because it’s sustainable. For example, if you get the a project funded, then perhaps look for a residency that can provide the studio space and solitude to get it done. Finding multiple streams of income is not only financially responsible, it’s a good way to be productive and efficient. I keep everything I’ve written in a searchable repository like Google Docs or Evernote for this purpose.
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