How to Prevent Mistakes on a Grant Application
7 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Finding and Applying for a Grant
After putting so much time and energy into your grant application, your eyes and brain may be too strained or fried to spot fatal writing or formatting errors. Unfortunately, the individuals who review and evaluate your grant application (program officers and peer reviewers) are trained — like hawks with trifocals and magnifying glasses — to find your mistakes.
And when they do, your application is at high risk of not being funded. That’s why recruiting a fresh pair of eyes is so important for making sure your writing, formatting, and adherence to the funder’s guidelines are spot on.
To get the most from your final edit, you have three options:
Finish your funding proposal early (three to four days before it’s due) and lay it aside for 24 hours before rereading. Taking a break from your text allows you to look at it with fresh eyes and spot mistakes you may not have noticed if you’d kept chugging along nonstop.
Have a colleague proof and edit all your work. Be sure to pick someone who doesn’t feel intimidated or shy about marking up your mistakes. Give this person a copy of the guidelines you followed. After all, it’s very easy to miss a narrative section response.
Secure the services of a professional proofreader or editor. Remember to give any outside eyes a copy of the grant application’s guidelines. Your hired helper needs to know the purpose of the funding, the funder’s instructions for writing and formatting the narrative, and the required supporting documents.
For the last two options, you may need to allow a little more than three or four days, so don’t wait until you finish the application to pick a path. Figure out ahead of time what you’re going to do so you can line up the resources you choose to work with and then build the needed time into your deadline schedule.
Whether you choose to proofread your application yourself or hire someone to do it for you, always run the spell-check feature on your word-processing program. Doing so takes only a few minutes, but fixing spelling errors early in the proofreading game saves you time later on, when you may be working to fix more prominent errors.
If you decide to proofread your own grant application, just toss it in the waste basket now! This is no joke. Get some help! Here’s a list of the types of bloopers and blunders that grant writers often make and never seem to find until it’s too late:
Nonmeasurable objectives: Failing to write SMART objectives is one of the most common reasons proposals lose peer review points and end up being eliminated for funding consideration.
Narrative section headings and subheadings that aren’t the same as the funder’s review criteria headings. If the funding agency has specific formatting guidelines for headings and subheadings and you omit these, the peer reviewer won’t be able to find the corresponding information for each narrative section.
Unpaginated (unnumbered) pages in the narrative. If peer reviewers have to match the last sentence on the previous page with the rest of the sentence on the next page because you leave off the page numbers, your application won’t be recommended for funding.
No sequential pagination from the cover form to the last attached or appended item when the funder has requested total document pagination. Some funding agencies publish specific paginating guidelines that require first page to last page sequential pagination. If you don’t follow the instructions, your application won’t be funded.
Different font types and sizes when the funder instructs you to use only one particular font type and size. Government funding agencies typically publish formatting guidelines that include a font type and size. If you use a different font than the published required font, your application won’t be funded.
Incorrect spacing between sentences when the funder indicates a specific spacing. Funders will publish the line spacing requirements (single- or double-spaced) in their grant application guidelines. These are mandatory formatting instructions that must be followed.
Orphan lines, headings, or subheadings left hanging alone at the bottom of a page. For visual continuity, bump down orphan lines to the next page. Also, always check the bottoms of your pages for standalone lines of text. Reformat accordingly.
Blatant spelling errors or misused words (for example, using there rather than their, hour rather than our, and so forth): Use a hard-copy dictionary and a thesaurus or your word-processing program’s spelling and grammar check options to ensure you’ve used the correct words.
Omitted heading or subheading responses that you believe don’t apply to your organization: Be sure to type Not Applicable under the heading or subheading or in the information field box.
Grammatical, punctuation, and sentence-structure errors. When a grant reader (program officer or peer reviewer) starts finding these types of mistakes, he wants to start reading your application over again from the beginning to look for more mistakes and reasons not to recommend your application for funding consideration. Don’t give him this opportunity!
Different funders have different rules. You can win the grant-seeking game if you read and adhere to each funder’s specific formatting rules.