AuthorAID Workshop on
Proposal Writing
June 2011
Effective Writing Style:
Advice for Preparing Proposals
Ravi Murugesan, MS, ELS
AuthorAID Training Coordinator
[email protected]
Importance of Writing Style
• A written proposal is your only medium for
communicating what you want to do.
– Granting bodies may not have time to discuss
your proposal with you.
– They usually make a decision after reading
your proposal.
• Winning proposals have good ideas that
are communicated well.
Key Elements of Writing Style
• Your writing in a proposal should be:
– Clear
– Concise
– Persuasive
– Well-formatted
Writing Clearly
• When you write your proposal, assume
that the reader (grant reviewer):
– Does not know the context or situation in
which you are working.
– Will not immediately understand the
importance of your project.
Writing Clearly (cont)
• Keep the grant reviewer in mind when you
• Follow basic principles to maintain clarity:
– Provide overviews before details.
– If tables and figures are used, design them for
easy understanding.
– Expand abbreviations / acronyms.
– Explain difficult terminology or concepts.
Writing Clearly (cont)
• Check whether your writing is clear by
showing your proposal to a colleague or
• Ask if he/she can
– Spot any unclear parts.
– Understand the results you hope to achieve.
– Understand the importance of your project.
Writing Concisely
• Two useful guidelines by George Orwell, a
British writer:
– Never use a long word where a short one will
– If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it
Writing Concisely: A Brief Exercise
• Using simple, common words
– attempt→
• Deleting needless words
– red in color→
totally destroyed→
• Condensing wordy phrases
– at this point in time→
in the event that→
• Using verbs, not nouns made from them
– produce relief of→
provide an explanation→
Writing Concisely (cont)
• Keep sentences short and complete.
• If you use paragraphs in your proposal,
keep them short too.
• Preview or summarize main points, for
example, in the abstract, but avoid
unnecessary repetition.
• Follow length or word-count limitations
given in the proposal instructions.
Writing to Persuade
• A proposal seeks to convince or persuade
the grant reviewer.
• The tone of writing can play a big role in
persuading the reviewer.
• Using the right tone can be tricky.
– It should be persuasive.
– It should not be impassive (dry) or arrogant
Writing to Persuade (cont)
• Consider these sentences:
X This project may improve the operational
processes of this library. (Impassive/dry)
 This project will lead to a substantial
improvement in the operational processes of
this library. (Persuasive/convincing)
X There is absolutely no doubt that this project
will lead to an unprecedented improvement
in this library. (Arrogant/overconfident)
Writing to Persuade (cont)
• Where to use a persuasive tone:
– Introduction: to establish that your project is
– Conclusion: to explain that your project is
likely to be successful and effective
• In the other parts of your proposal (for
example, background study and methods),
a persuasive tone may not be appropriate.
Formatted Writing
• Bad handwriting makes the text hard to
read or gives the reader a negative
• Badly formatted documents have a similar
effect on the reader.
• Granting bodies often provide templates
for writing proposals, but it’s still important
to format your writing.
Formatted Writing (cont)
• Some techniques to improve format:
– Consider inserting subheadings if a section of
text is long.
– Use fonts consistently (for example, all
headings should have the same font).
– To emphasize words or phrases, use bold,
underline, or italics; don’t use CAPITAL
Formatted Writing (cont)
• Some techniques to improve format:
– Don’t use numbering or bullets excessively.
– If the numbered or bulleted points are lengthy,
order them vertically instead of horizontally.
– Consider breaking a long list into more than
one list.
– Closely follow any instructions regarding the
format of your proposal.
A Final Check
• Proofread your proposal before you
finalize and send it.
• Check for errors in spelling and grammar.
• A manual spell check is useful for catching
wrong words (for example, aboard instead
of abroad).
Some Resources
• The Elements of Style (www.bartleby.com/141/)
• Getting the Most out of Words
• Academic Phrasebank
• Grammar Girl (grammar.quickanddirtytips.com)
Thank You!

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