THREE KEYS TO WRITING GOOD NARRATIVES (GRANT WRITING TIPS)

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"Triangulate": That's the name for the strategy advocated by politicians these days for finding the most voters, normally clustered in the middle.

Good grant writing, experts say, involves triangulating prose as well, transecting it with three clear elements:

To take the last first, there is no conflict between writing spare, jargon-free proposals and, occasionally, in quite isolated sections, adding some illustration from your school or from your project to clinch your case.

A solid example from a classroom never hurts in indicating what strategy will work in solving a problem.

The stress in all examples and stories should be positive, says John Hicks, a grantwriting expert. Provide examples of the kinds of good things that are being done that could be expanded with additional funding.

Clear prose doesn't mean abstract and lifeless writing. Solid argument doesn't mean bloodless narrative.

In telling an illustrative story, be brief and unemotional. As long as your tone is cool, do not be afraid of helping a reviewer see what you are talking about. A "just-the-facts" approach is perfectly compatible with just a few pictures.

One funder even says she looks "for proposals that read like novels" and hopes for the stories that will make the project come alive.

Goal Setting

Establishing what your goals are is just as important, and often involves another parallel writing strategy.

David Thomas, a development official at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., says at another institution he was once informed that "everything is a priority."

This is unhelpful, he says. What is needed is making as precise as possible your program or project goals. Let a donor see that a contribution could help you accomplish something doable.

Grant writers advise it's useful to provide a statistic as a benchmark to make a goal more concrete and achievable.

For example, a school can say that a grant will help it:

Recently, at a hearing for the beleaguered D. C. schools, superintendent Arlene Ackerman won some congressional plaudits for declaring, "We've told our lowest performing schools that their scores must improve 10% this year or they will face reconstitution" (emphasis hers).

As President Clinton so often reminds us in his speeches, nothing is more persuasive when it comes to school funding than a child with a statistic attached.

In presenting a statistical goal, says Hicks, be sparing and use no more than three pieces of quantitative information in one sentence. If you have more, use bullets, he says.

Integrate Key Points

Finally, it is important to remember you should integrate key points throughout the proposal. For example, with many grant applications, a government agency or foundation will list a set of enumerated criteria.

Obviously, you want to address each of the criteria, but that doesn't mean you just touch on a subject and move on.

Grant applicants should keep all the criteria in mind at each stage of the project narrative.

For example, the Commerce Dept.'s Telecommunication Infrastructure Assistance Program (see AFE 12/16p16) has guidelines saying it is a mistake to "treat each of the evaluation criteria as a separate and distinct writing task, rather than as a stage in a coherent and convincing presentation."

Making It All Coherent

The guidelines ask applicants to address five areas:
  1. purpose,
  2. feasibility,
  3. community involvement,
  4. reducing disparities,
  5. evaluation.
Your application should reflect a coherent and well-thought-out approach to all these issues.

The purpose for this particular program involves identifying a specific need that could be addressed by improvements in telecommunications infrastructure.

However, the purpose needs to be backed up by the feasibility section. For example, if you cannot demonstrate that your project to link all the schools in extremely rural parts of Wyoming via the Internet is possible, you need to re-evaluate your request.

To give another example, if you only consider the public's involvement in one section of your application, it will look superficial. Integrating a key concept in many different parts of your narrative reflects its integration in the entire project.

Info: Hicks, 212/925-5800; Thomas, 202/884-4530; Foundation Center, 800/424-9836, or consult its Website: http://fdncenter.org.

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