Grants aren’t research papers

While grant requests are usually written on paper, and prospective funders usually expect to see research, an effective request isn’t a research paper.

Confused? Don’t be.

Research papers are a staple of American colleges and universities. They serve a very important purpose: teaching students how to present a thesis statement, find research to support it, and then present those findings in a carefully organized fashion. Papers that earn high grades tend to be very logical and written in the complex style preferred by the academic world.

“Before long, those tricks become habits, and their papers become more impressive and (sadly) less communicative.”

Most students learn fairly quickly that their grades on research papers will climb when they use longer, more complex sentences, four-syllable words, and as many resources as possible. Before long, those tricks become habits, and their papers become more impressive and (sadly) less communicative.

Unfortunately, those habits often follow students long after Commencement. When they enter the working world, they’re required to write memos, letters, proposals, and requests – and many immediately fall back on that familiar style.

When it comes to grant requests – even a request for funding of a research project – it’s important to remember that the primary purpose is not to advance and provide support for a thesis statement. That’s true whether it’s an application to a federal agency for research dollars, a request to the community foundation to support a new charitable effort, or a letter to a corporation to request a contribution for a local not-for-profit.

The purpose of that request is to persuade the recipient to share some or all of its dollars with the organization making the request. To do that effectively, it has to accomplish several things.

First, it has to make sure the request is clear and understandable – and that’s where research papers fall woefully short. Those long, complex sentences and huge words lifted from the thesaurus actually get in the way of understanding. The all-important reviewers may or may not grasp exactly what the organization plans to do, and how or why. Will they be willing to fund something they can’t understand? (And how many of us are fearless enough to come back to the writer and admit we don’t understand what they’ve written?)

Second, a grant request has to gain the reviewer’s confidence. If an organization is about to hand over a hefty chunk of cash, it needs to be certain that the money will go to good use. If your needs, objectives, goals, and measurement are clear and easily understood, it suggests that your organization uses sound business practices and will treat the funder’s contribution with respect. Should that funder have to read your words three or four times to understand what you want and why, he or she may come away with the idea that you’re not sure, either.

Finally, the request has to present the program or objective as something that can succeed. If it’s cloaked in doubletalk and fancy words, it’s likely to raise questions – even subconsciously – as to whether the idea has substance. Write in that familiar research paper style, and your favorite project may sound more like a hazy theory than something you can accomplish. But clear language, active voice, and similar statements will give your request the solidity it needs. When you do present research, do so in simple, confident ways.

A college education is a critical part of your personal and professional development, and learning how to write research papers helps you develop skills that benefit you in more ways than you could imagine. But when it comes to developing grant requests, leave the academic language back in the land of beer pong and all-nighters, and promote your program with the skills and confidence you have today.

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