So, once you’ve done your preliminary search, and come up with a list of possible funding opportunities, what’s next?
Figure out what exactly you’re proposing for each grant. Funders look for different types of projects or different aspects that they are interested in funding. You might have a few grants with similar expectations, or you might be applying for grants with different angles on the same project. If all of the funders are for the same project, or the same part of it (if you’re applying for small grants), then you might be able to use some of your materials for several applications. You’ll want to be really careful about this though, because in general each funder has a particular interest in funding research, and you want to make sure that your materials really address that specifically in each application.
Depending on how you’ve organized yourself, you might find it helpful to make a list (if you haven’t already) of what documents each application requires, and the page, word, or character limits for those documents. You can also include the deadline for each grant to help you figure out what order you might need to work in. (See also our post on organizing your grant search and application process.)
It might be helpful to include in this list some of the keywords that define the funder’s interest and the description of the grant itself. That way, when you are looking at what you need to write, you’ll have a reminder of what each funder’s angle is, and you’ll be able to incorporate some of those ideas into your description of your project (see also our post on how to conceive of and describe your project).
Everyone has a particular way that they write best. It might mean making an outline first, or simply starting to write and see where you get. Maybe you write three different versions and then think about what the virtues are of each version, and how you can consolidate them to get all of the best parts into one piece. In any case, the process will take a lot of editing, so be ready to do multiple versions of each document, where you pare down your text to fit the space limits, refine your language to be as precise as possible, and check that your description is appropriate for the audience. If you have small pieces of text that you anticipate you’ll use for several different applications, you might want to keep a document where you store those paragraphs so that you can find them easily. It’s a good idea to keep all of your major drafts, so that if you later remember something that you included in an early draft that you want to put back in, you can find it easily.
Part of the challenge at this stage is keeping track of what you’re doing. You can use your list of funders and documents as a checklist to mark which documents you’ve started, which you’ve proofed, maybe which you’ve shown to peers or professors for comments.
One of the biggest problems that a lot of us have with all aspects of academic production, including grant writing (also dissertation writing) is simply getting started. And one of the secrets is that once you overcome that initial inertia, things become much easier. So once you know what kinds of documents you need to write, pick one and start on it. It might be the grant that you’re the most excited about, or the description you think will be the easiest, or that you’re the most ready to write. You might start part of one document and later discover that actually, it belongs in a different document (the project proposal or the personal statement, for example), but at least you’ve started.
Set yourself goals for finishing drafts. If it helps, team up with colleagues who are also working on applications and keep track of each others’ goals to keep yourselves honest. You can even break up documents into smaller parts and then set shorter-term goals for sections of text. The section on your experimental methodology for your project proposal, or the section of your personal statement where you discuss how your experience with teaching has influenced your research goals (with concrete examples).
The important thing is to get going and then keep going. Try to write a little each day. How much will depend on you as a writer, on the grant itself, on your timeline. But once you get into the habit, you’ll find that the end comes more quickly.