How to Write a Grant Proposal from Start to Finish

20 page narrative to write in three weeks…. blank page…. eek. Never fear. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even a way that is satisfying, rewarding, and dare I say it, not intimidating.


None of those. Begin at the easiest spot.

Start writing

I had a Professor at Cornell who taught a 3 hour seminar on Wednesday afternoons. They were long seminars and he was a tough cookie. I remember two things from that class.

First, he handed out caffeine laden candy at a time when the only common form was coffee. It taught me the power of caffeine. I’ve since learned that meditation is a pretty good substitute for getting the blood flowing around the old circulatory system so I’ve let that lesson fall by the wayside.

Second, he told me to just write. When you are faced with a blank page, just write something even if it is rubbish. Just write sentences and get something down. Then you can come back later and delete or edit it but it’s a lot easier to write a sentence than the perfect sentence.

Write the easiest section first

I always tackle a proposal like a research paper or thesis i.e. in sections. This works because proposals are always conveniently broken up into sections in terms of scoring. In fact, some reviewers score in batches so that they will read 10 need sections and then read 10 methods sections etc rather than read each proposal in its entirety.

I always start with whichever section I can write given the state of play in the planning process. Sometimes that is the introduction or needs section, but not always.

Get going, get writing

When the clock is ticking expediency is the name of the game. So, at a time when I may not know what the precise methodology is going to be for a project I probably do know what the management structure is going to look like. That’s when I get to work and draft out that section.

When I’m finished with that draft, the needs statement will be falling into place and I can throw my energies into doing the research that I need to get that written. By then the objectives are probably pretty solid and once they are confirmed I can write the evaluation section. That leaves time for drafting the methods section.

It doesn’t always happen in that order but you get the picture. Just get going on whatever can be written now. I’ve found that I usually do 7 or 8 drafts before finishing up a proposal so the sooner you can get the first draft complete the better off you will be.

Even if you have weeks ‘til the deadline still just get going. That deadline will be around the corner before you know it and then everyone will be running around your office demanding superlative copy.

Be superlative and start writing the first draft today…… or tomorrow if you really need a little hammock time….. that article on procrastination is on it’s way.

Data Digging

Got cows, horses, pigs or corn? Then I’ve got the site for you.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service publications cover a wide range of agricultural topics. It includes data on crops, the demographics and economics of farming, charts and maps, and available research and extension publications. It’s a treasure trove for those of us with mud on our boots.

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