Tips for Grads: A guide to writing grant proposals

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

One of the things we hear about most often from graduate students is the difficulty and confusion they face when applying for grants. It can feel discouraging if you aren’t sure what to do, what to write, or where to apply! Luckily, the Writing Center has compiled an extremely helpful guide, Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics. I would recommend taking the time to read the entire guide for yourself, but in the meantime, here are three key takeaways:

  • There is no one size fits all grant proposal: As much as I love to avoid duplicating my work, it is best to tailor grant proposals to the organization, what they are looking for, and what their expectations are for the proposal format and for the usage of the grant itself. You can certainly borrow parts of previous grants you’ve written for the project before, but you should approach each one with your specific audience in mind.
  • The smaller grants are worth it: When I think about applying for grant funding, I’ve often narrowed my search to the bigger options out there. My main logic has always been to try to make the investment of my time spent writing the proposal “worth it”, in terms of how much money I get out of it. But the guide reminds us that securing a handful of smaller grants can be a worthwhile strategic move in making your proposal more attractive to larger funding operations. Sometimes, the value of a grant doesn’t just come from the money, but from the weight it lends to your endeavors.
  • Grant writing is an exciting thing: I was really surprised to read those words, because my first thought when I know I’m going to need to apply for grants is that doing so is a task and a chore. But the Writing Center encourages us to remember that being in this position means that we have something we are passionate about, something we are doing that no one else is, or an exciting idea that we want to bring to life. Reframing our mindset from “this is something I have to do” to “this is something I get to do” is an essential step in writing a great grant proposal.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.