I walk the (out)line


Are you procrastinating on writing a grant proposal that really needs to be submitted?

A technique that really helps me break through proposal inertia is outlining.

Here are four tips for outlining grant proposals – provided for you in informal outline form!

1.     In the early stages of writing a grant proposal, an outline can help you to quickly capture the information you already have and identify the information you still need.

  • Typically, to get the ball rolling with a proposal, the program director will forward you a bunch of documents about the project – white papers, emails, reports, articles.
  • This means that you're starting with a huge pile of information that you need to first read and then distill. Your job as proposal writer is to synthesize this broad cluster of information into a coherent, persuasive document. Your proposal needs to include the ideas that will be compelling to the funder – and succinctly explain anything that may be confusing to a reader from outside your organization.
  • The outline is a tool you can use to identify and organize the best information you've been sent, and determine any need for additional information.

2.     Outlining helps you to avoid getting into the weeds of explaining a concept or writing perfect prose before you're clear about what the proposal is going to cover.

  • There's no sense in creating elegant, compelling text about an aspect of your organization or the project that you're not going to end up including in the final proposal.

3.     If possible, get all of your source material electronically.

  • This will allow you to copy and paste text that you may want to use directly into your outline.

4.     Keep your outline as simple and streamlined as possible.

  • I like to create my outlines in Microsoft Word, and use the review tab to add comments. The comments function allows you to include all the technical or detailed text that you may want to draw from, without cluttering up the outline itself.
  • Don't wordsmith your outline. Sentence fragments and imperfect word choices are OK for an outline. Unless there's a boss or coworker you really need to impress, the time to polish your text is when your proposal is in close-to-final draft.

Outline your way to proposal success!

For more tips on outlining grant proposals, check out this article by Mark Whitacre of Goldstone Grants.