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Basic Principles of Proposal Writing

In no particular order:

Principle #1: Don’t get disqualified. Read all eligibility criteria carefully and be sure that both you and your proposed project meet them.

Principle #2: Don’t annoy the reviewers. Adhere faithfully to all formatting guidelines and character/page limits.

Principle #3: Kill your darlings. In other words, be succinct because space is precious. Eliminate information that is not germane to your argument and potentially confusing or distracting to the reviewer.

Principle #4: Know your audience. If you are pitching your proposal to reviewers who are not in your field (much less experts on your particular research topic), avoid jargon and overly technical language.

Principle #5: Never assume the reviewer will read your file front to back. Every reviewer’s MO is different, so be sure pertinent information appears in multiple places without sounding repetitive.

Principle #6: State what you want and state it early. Most reviewers are slogging through piles of applications so don’t make them work for anything. Let them know why you want this funding in the first paragraph or two and then fill in the background information.

Principle #7: Differentiate yourself and your perspective. Leave the reviewers with something to separate your application from the pile and remember that diversity most certainly includes, but is not limited to, one’s ethnic background.

Principle #8: Present yourself as a safe bet. Reviewers want to know that you will be putting these funds to good use. Let them know how this funding will impact your future career plans and that you have to potential to be a leader in your field.

Principle #9: Remember that this is bilateral. It is easy to articulate why you need this funding, but why does this foundation or organization need you? Research their mission carefully and clearly state how both you and your project align with it.

Principle #10: What’s the “so what?”? Why should the reviewer care about what you are proposing to do and what is its potential impact beyond your field or beyond academia?

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