Guest Blogger – David Holmes
A couple years ago, the digital library JSTOR hosted a report on a longitudinal study of student writing over the past 100 years. The authors of the study assumed that as short communications through email and texting became more common, students would begin to write the same way—in staccato bursts, ignoring punctuation, and with fewer words.
The authors found this not to be the case: student papers are longer: averaging over 1,000 words, compared with 162 words in 1917. The authors conclude that students have gotten more verbose- because computers now make writing, editing, and researching so much easier.
What does this tendency mean when it comes to grant proposals? More and more grantmakers seem to want less and less—fewer words, shorter requests, and more streamlined arguments. Anyone who has completed an online grant application knows that word and character limits can be the bane of one’s existence. Cut fifty words? Communicate the need in 100 characters? How can I do that?
Well, here’s a few tips, tersely told:
- Do an outline: Your English teacher was right. Use bullet points and short phrases and stick to it.
- Summarize the paragraphs: When editing, ask yourself: what does this paragraph say? If it says much more than your summary, use the summary instead.
- Get another set of eyes: Don’t choose someone who worships your writing—choose someone who’s in a hurry. Someone who can tell you when sentences you love don’t help your case.
- Set yourself limits: Tell yourself you will cut 50 words from every bit of writing, even when you don’t have to. It makes you a better editor for the next one.
If you want to learn (and practice) your foundation proposal writing skills, come to The Center’s course with Dave, Grant Writing 101 , on March 5, 2019.
Dave Holmes is the Cleveland Lead at Foundation Center Midwest, coordinating the training, reference, and research services for the Midwest region. He returned to the Foundation Center in 2015 from a position as Senior Consultant at Grants Plus, writing grants and doing research for a variety of large and small nonprofit clients.