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9 proofreading hacks for grant writers

We’ve all been there. You started the five-figure grant request weeks ago, but you’re short-staffed and now it’s 3 pm on D-Day (deadline day). There you are, staring at the sloppy copy generated during  three hours of overtime last night. Tweaks to the grant writing process can wait until next time. You have to submit it today!

Here’s my best proofreading tips to get you to the stroke of midnight with your glass slippers intact.

Re-read the directions in the grant application

Especially if you have been pulling it together in bits and pieces for weeks, it helps to focus on the funder’s requirements. They might look nitpicky to you, but there is usually a reason behind each neurotic instruction. You invested your most precious commodity – your time – in this grant. You don’t want it to end up in the rejection pile because you forgot to put the needs assessment on the first page. Or 12-point font. Or 1-inch margins. Or whatever.

Write your prose sections in a word processor

Composing at the last minute? It’s so tempting to type it right into the box in the grant interface. Until the clunky program crashes, or your laptop battery dies, or you accidentally cut and paste the wrong section. Word processors auto-calculate word and character counts (remember those directions?) and also keep a record you can save for other grants when you nail that program description in a fresh way.

Don’t ignore the red or blue squiggles – ever

Word processors draw attention to garden-variety spelling and grammar errors and even auto-correct typos. But be careful about ignoring those “squiggles” when they flag unusual words related to your mission— but unfamiliar to Microsoft algorithms. Instead of ignoring the red squiggly line, add the word to your usage dictionary. This way, your brain will process all the “red flags” instead of getting into the habit of ignoring “some” squiggles.

Print it out

There is something mesmerizing about that bluish screen that hides your mistakes. Printing your application and whipping out a red pen will reveal typos and even mixed metaphors. It might also help you catch missed edits, such as the revised dollar figure in one section that also needs to be adjusted in the budget narrative or vice versa.

Start your review from the LAST page first

Sometimes those first few pages get more attention than they deserve. Maybe you started and restarted your editing multiple times, from the beginning. If you start your proofreading from the back, you ensure that the splashy summary at the end gets fresh attention and relates to the initial need statement.

Proofread it more than once

Start with a content review – are the facts straight? Do your anecdotes provide enough emotional oomph? Is there any missing information you forgot to insert? Does your industry jargon obscure the context of your innovative work? Lather, rinse, repeat…but this time, focus on grammar, spelling, typos, font mismatches and punctuation anomalies. Finally, use a calculator to confirm that your budget totals are correct.

Proof your boilerplates, too

If you are using a library of pre-approved grant narrative pieces, proof them just like all the rest, and in context. What if you miss a part that names the wrong funder (?!), or references last year’s budget totals?

Read it out loud as you proof

Force yourself to concentrate on each word you actually see on the page as you speak it out loud. Guaranteed, you will catch at least one instance of using the same word twice in the same paragraph when a synonym would be stronger. You get extra credit for catching a word that is missing!

Finished early? Ask for a second set of eyes!

Staff and volunteers appreciate being asked—and it’s fun to celebrate together when you win! Don’t forget to provide your reviewer with a copy of the grant instructions, too. And thank your assistant profusely. How about a Starbucks gift card?

Ultimately, good grammar and perfect prepositions do not win grants. Funders want to see that solid program backed up with a qualified team who produces metrics that matter. But if the funder is on the fence about this project, your attention to detail might convince someone that your team is trustworthy with other people’s money.

Of course, Upstream Consulting is always available to provide you with a solid review to make your proposal outshine the rest. Reach out to us and let us know how we can help you!

Excelsior!

Kristen West McGuire
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Grant Writing

May 10, 2020

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