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How to Construct Your Grant Application's Problem Statement

5 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Constructing Your Grant Application

Sometimes the hardest part about writing the problem statement for your grant application is knowing when you’re done. You know you’ve written a convincing and compelling problem statement when you get out your hanky to dab away a few tears after rereading your masterpiece!

If you have a summary of a needs survey or letters from organizations documenting that the demands for your services are greater than your resources to deliver the services, attach these documents to your application. Always reference such attachments in the narrative so grant readers can refer to them and get their full effect while reading the needs statement.

What your grant app problem statement needs to contain

Make sure that your problem statement includes information that touches on each of the following main topics:

  • Background info on the applicant and the problem

  • The populations that the grant applicant serves and how the services are rendered.

  • The environment in which the organization operates, such as a neighborhood location

  • The severity of the problem

Including graphics in your grant app problem statement

Reading nothing but sentences can get dull. Luckily, graphics offer visual relief from chunks of text and can visually illustrate a point you want to make:

  • Adding comparison tables and other graphics: Tables and other graphics are a great way to drive home a point about the target population. Plus, it gives the reader a break from straight text. This figure shows a graph that’s particularly effective because it tells the reader how the risk indicators in the grant applicant’s targeted area compare to state-level risk indicators.


    Use more than one type of graphic if you have a lot of demographics on your target population. Try a mixture of bar graphs, pie charts, and tables. This figure demonstrates the increased visual impact of an ordinary pie chart when you use variegated color effects.

  • Including relevant maps: Maps tell the grant or cooperative agreement reader where your services will be targeted or how far the problem area spans. You can use a map as a graphic insert, as in this figure, or as a watermark that would appear in the background of your text. If you use a map as a graphic insert, keep it contained to one-half page or less.


Making visualization work with your grant app

Here are some tips on how to successfully use graphics in your problem statement:

  • Reserve tables for large amounts of information.

  • Use bar and pie charts when you want to communicate age ranges by groups, income by groups, and numerical breakdowns of target population indicators.

  • When you use statistics, always cite the source. You can insert a credit line directly below each graphic, or you can insert footnotes. In some funding documents in which the formatting guidelines bar the use of footnotes, you can create endnotes or a reference page.

  • When the funder limits the number of pages you have to develop your narrative, try wrapping text around a graphic or typing text over a watermark graphic.

  • Stay away from using clip art in your needs statement unless that’s all you have. Clip art doesn’t create an authentic picture of any dire situation, so it will likely make little impact on reviewers.

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