Writing for a Grant

Whether writing for a federal or foundation grant, here are some essential DOs common to both:

  1. Be aware of deadlines. Create a work schedule that will allow you to submit all required documents to the College’s Office of Research Support, allowing sufficient time for the ORS to relay the proposal to the UW Office of Sponsored Programs within the requisite 7 working days prior to the sponsor’s deadline.
  2. Carefully read then re-read the application guidelines and meticulously follow every requirement, from the specified content to page limits to size of font, margins, and line spacing.
  3. Work for clarity and fluency. Even if writing for reviewers in your field, you still improve your chances if you can write in a natural style, without clogging your prose with excessive jargon, and can avoid overly long, confusing sentences.
  4. Avoid sounding generic. If you have a boiler-plate proposal, be sure to tailor it for the specific sponsor, especially if it’s a foundation.
  5. Construct a reasonable budget.

Some general references:

Available through UW Libraries:

  • Donald C. Orlich and Nancy R. Shrope, Developing a Winning Grant Proposal
  • Jeremy T. Miner and Lynn E. Miner, Models of Proposal Planning & Writing
  • Jane C. Geever, The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing


Proposals for Federal Sponsors

Proposals for Foundations

You cannot take your 20-page NSF proposal, pop on a new title, and send it off to a foundation. Each proposal needs to be customized to address a funder’s individual interests and priorities and be consistent with all of its application guidelines.



Tips for the Proposal

Following are some suggestions for making your proposal stand out from all the others:

  1. Funding your project will benefit many individuals in need. Make a convincing case for substantial benefits relative to investment. The outcomes of your work also are replicable, creating potential for benefiting many beyond your project.
  2. Your project is novel, a new way of looking at things. Foundations want to be associated with cutting-edge work, especially if it becomes a standard that guides subsequent initiatives by others or reshapes policies.
  3. Your work will be conducted collaboratively with university colleagues, or with public schools and/or school districts, local government, community groups.
  4. Your project is inclusive of those you seek to help, either in planning, directing or executing.
  5. The college/university has made its own investment in the project, demonstrating the value of the project and its objectives.
  6. Indicate whether the foundation grant will attract other investments into the project.
  7. Have a plan for continuing the work after the foundation grant has ended.

THE LETTER OF INQUIRY (LOI) or preproposal

Faced with many more grantseekers than they can fund, foundations increasingly rely on the letter of inquiry as the first filter for determining if a proposed project meets their funding priorities and merits a request for a full proposal. This also saves the applicant from expending excessive time and effort on what will likely be an unsuccessful proposal.

Once you’ve narrowed your search for foundations to those that appear to be the best match for your proposed project, you need to determine if they require an LOI (sometimes called a “preproposal”) preliminary to a full proposal. Many foundations lay out specific requirements and format for the LOI. And some ask you to submit the LOI electronically. Whatever the requirements, you should follow them exactly.

If no format is specified, the conventional LOI is written as a business letter on the College’s letterhead, with date, salutation, closing and signature, and should be no longer than three pages.

The effective LOI can be more difficult to write than a full proposal, because it requires distilling out the key elements of the proposal to create a brief, readable document. It is, in essence, a condensed formal proposal. Standard contents of a letter of inquiry:

  1. Introduction. In one brief paragraph, state who you are, what you want to do, amount needed or requested, and period of time for which the funds are requested. You might also mention the connection between the foundation’s interests and your proposal. This paragraph should stand on its own.
  2. Statement of need, obviously, is at the heart of the LOI. It includes appropriate statistical data (2-3 footnoted citations rather than endnotes), and concrete examples. Make sure the target population, geographic area, and outcomes are consistent with the foundation’s parameters. Explain why you are responding to this issue in the way that you are.
  3. Credentials/organization description. Demonstrate why you and the College are particularly well positioned to carry out this project. Provide a very brief history and description of your current work/programs and how that serves as a foundation for what you wish to accomplish with the requested funding. (This will be elaborated on in greater detail if you are invited to submit a full proposal.)
  4. Project activity (the bulk of your letter). Provide a general overview of the planned activities. Note why your approach is novel and deserving of funding. Also include key project staff, collaborators, any other funding sources. Should directly address your statement of need and present a clear, logical, and achievable solution.
  5. Outcomes/objectives. A succinct statement of what this project will accomplish, i.e., measurable outcomes. How will evaluation be part of the project? If appropriate, describe how the project will be sustained once funding ends.
  6. Closing. A brief paragraph restates the intent of the project and offers to provide additional information. Express appreciation for the funder’s consideration.
  7. Signature.  (Perhaps have the dean’s co-signature to indicate institutional support.)

The above description is adapted from: “What should be included in a letter of inquiry/intent?” from The Foundation Center.