I think a lot of grant writers sometimes forget who their audience is, and what they’re looking for.
It’s a key piece of advice for all types of writing – write for your audience. That includes grant writing.
For me, I actually learned grant writing backwards – I first came across the concept of grants as a junior public servant assigned to a grants program. Pretty soon I was assessing grant applications, and then moderating grant rounds, which is when you read all the assessments done by the other assessors and make sure everyone is working to the same standard and that the right applications are coming up on top.
In my view, there’s no better way to learn grant writing – it takes all the mystery out of the process and you learn exactly what the assessors are looking for. You know exactly who the audience is – because you’ve been that audience.
Even if you haven’t assessed grants, you can have a think about it and make some guesses.
If it’s a federal grant round, you can be pretty sure that the person reading your application is pretty smart but not a subject matter expert.
If it’s a local council grant round, the person reading it will be really familiar with and passionate about the local area.
For philanthropic grants, the person will be looking for an issue that speaks to their goals and interests.
The more you can guess about your audience, the more you can address their needs in the applications.
It’s important to remember that grant applications are pretty much the only real world scenario (outside of school or uni) where your writing will be assessed. Usually, the person who reads it will have a rubric for each question and will be looking for key words and ideas and issues that will help them assign a mark. They’ll be trying to decide “does this show sound understanding of the issue with some evidence (3/5), or does this show good understanding with clear evidence (4/5), or does this show exceptional understanding with very detailed evidence (5/5)?”
Most of the time, the grant goes to the applicants who get the highest score on assessment.
The easiest way to maximise your score is by fully answering each question. It sounds so obvious, but it’s crazy how many people don’t. A question might say “explain A B and C” and half the applications will only address A and C. There’s no way you can score well if you miss parts of the question.
The other thing is to really think about what does the assessor need to give me a good mark for this? So read the question and think about what the best possible response might look like from the point of view of the grant assessor – it’ll have clear reasoning, show detailed understanding of the issue, be backed up with evidence, and show strong feasibility.
Basically, it needs to stand up to scrutiny so that when senate estimates comes knocking, they have clear reasons why you got the funding and not someone else.
Give the assessor every reason to give you a good score – make their job easy.
Write for your audience, and you’ll write better grant applications.