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First Steps in Revising (Advice from the Archives)
Advice from the Archives Series Note: Occasionally, we dig into the archives to uncover a post we feel holds relevant and timely information worthy of a repost. If you are interested in learning more about research grants and fellowships to support your graduate study, be sure to visit the GradFund Knowledgebase.
One of the most important practices in good grant writing is editing. A first draft is very rarely perfect, and the best writers spend time editing and re-writing their work. Even if you come from a discipline where writing is not a primary focus, you can use the below tips to help you to figure out how to revise your first draft into a better second draft.
When it comes to revising, there is one major point we need to cover before we can move on to editing techniques. You are not a bad writer. Everyone needs to make edits and to develop editing skills. A rough, choppy first draft is a great place to start on your path towards a successful application. Do not get discouraged. Be confident in your research and your project’s merits. Your writing can always be edited and reshaped to best reflect the strengths of your work and your skills in your field. Believe in yourself when you write, and some of that positive energy will be present in your writing and will strength your proposal.
I’ve listed a few steps below which used together or all at once can be helpful in editing a rough first draft into a clearer second draft. This list is not exhaustive, but meant to give you some new ideas about how to better work through drafts of your writing.
- Start writing early, if you can. You’ll need more time to edit than you think. Giving yourself time to think between drafts is important. After your first draft is written, give yourself a break, at least a few hours, or a day or two if you can. This way you can let your ideas sink in a bit about what you’ve written and you can revise with fresh eyes.
- When it comes to sentence structure and grammar, you’ll want to consult the style manual of your field to make sure you are following the acceptable conventions of your field, especially when it comes to citations. For example, in History we use Chicago Manual of Style.
- For general writing tips and techniques, check out Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style: click here to open a pdf of the text. It’s a well-loved guide for writing clearly and concisely in English.
- As you review your draft, make sure you know why each paragraph is important to your entire proposal. What is each meant to convey, and what evidence do you use to convey that message within your paragraphs?
- Then, look more intently at each paragraph. What do they contain? More specifically, do your paragraphs have clear topic sentences? A topic sentence is usually the first and/or second sentence in the paragraph and it tells your reader what the paragraph is about. It is the main point stated clearly and briefly. Making sure you have well-written topic sentences will help guide your reader through your paper. They will also help you structure your writing. When working with a word-count limit, it’s important to make sure that every sentence and every paragraph has a purpose. Adjusting you topic sentences to align with the goals and structure of your proposal will help you write a clear and succinct draft.
- Where are you in your word count? Figure out how much you have written and how much left you have to write. If the word count for your proposal is 500-1500 words, it’s usually a good idea to stick close to those recommendations. Occasionally, if given a longer word limit, it can be a good strategy to try to make your paper a bit shorter, allowing the reader to move through you paper more quickly – perhaps turning a 20-page proposal description into 12-15 pages – making sure that you are including all of these necessary components of your proposal.
- With most proposals you want to write for a general academic audience. Assume your reader is intelligent, but not privy to the particular terms of your field. Are you using terms that someone who is not in your particular field or area of research would be familiar with? Can you remove any field-specific jargon, or add brief explanations if the terms themselves have particular relevance to your work?
- Use spell check if you text editing software has that capability.
Feel free to take into practice some or all of these ideas. And, good luck with your writing! Remember, all good writing starts with a messy first draft. You can do this!