Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

The Four “C”s of Grant Writing (Advice from the Archives)

by | May 28, 2018 | Advice from The Archives, Best Practices, Proposal Writing Advice

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.

An effective grant application will be clear, concise, comprehensive, and compelling. These four “C”s may help you focus the drafting and revision process for any application.


Aim to describe your research project so that it is intelligible to an interdisciplinary review panel. Reviewers for award competitions often have to wade through hundreds of applications. With the limited time they have to review your proposal, you need to make sure they can quickly understand the goals and significance of your research. Replace jargon and technical terminology with layman’s terms where necessary. To write clearly, means to reduce jargon, but it also means to follow a logical form of organization and to proofread awkward sentences that impede a hurried reader’s understanding.


In your research proposal, aim to strike a good balance between providing necessary context and framing out your unique contribution. At times, there is a tendency to overload a proposal with unnecessary background information. This becomes especially problematic when this happens at the expense of clarifying the contribution of the project to the scholarly literature. Limit the background to the most necessary details a reader needs to orient him or herself and focus your proposal on the new knowledge your project will generate.


To be comprehensive means to include all the key ingredients required to fulfill the guideline requirements. Make sure that you directly address the review criteria and any prompts the funder provides. Most reviewers will not be familiar with the nuances of your project, so you need to describe the methods you use to gather data and answer your research question in a comprehensive way.


The first three “C”s are straightforward enough, but what does it mean to make an application compelling? We advise students to foreground the significance and timeliness of your project. What would we miss if you did not get to investigate the research question you propose and why is it important that this work be done now? As a writing exercise, step back from the draft of your application and try to answer these questions directly. See if there is a way to integrate your responses into your proposal.


The way you make your grant or fellowship application clear, concise, comprehensive, and compelling is unique to you and your research. That is why we offer individual appointments at GradFund. Our goal is to customize our feedback to the opportunities and challenges to the graduate scholars with whom we work.

Originally posted on May 2, 2016 by Ben Arenger. Lightly edited and updated above by María Elizabeth Roldan.

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