Office of Graduate Student External Grants and Fellowships | GradFund

Show, Don’t Tell

by | Dec 10, 2018 | Advice, Proposal Writing Advice

“Show, don’t tell” is a pretty common saying here at GradFund. But what exactly do we mean by this, and how can it help you write a competitive application?

Typically, grant applications consist of more than a research design. Funders want to know who they’re funding, not just what they’re funding. Describing the type of scholar you are can be a challenging process, especially if you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself. Many of us resort to writing generic, “feel-good” statements that we think will please reviewers.

Below are some examples:

“I believe increasing diversity in higher education is incredibly important and that it can benefit everyone.”

“I love learning about other cultures and I am excited about the opportunity to conduct research in Paris.”

“I am innovative, responsible, hard-working, and committed to being a mentor to others.”

“Graduate school is preparing me for my career by strengthening my research skills.”

Sound familiar?

While these types of sentences sound nice, there is no real substance behind them. And that’s the problem. Competitive candidates avoid using imprecise language in their applications. Instead, they emphasize details that are unique to them and their individual experiences.

Here’s the general rule: if anyone can write it, don’t write it.

Most people believe that diversity is important. Instead, answer these questions: How has your own background shaped your view of diversity and inclusion? What, specifically, have you done to increase diversity in higher education?

Anyone can say they love learning about other cultures. Instead: Give specific examples about the ways in which you have engaged with various communities and how that has shaped you into the scholar you are today.

Anyone can say they’re a committed mentor. Instead: Share stories about your experiences as a mentor and how those experiences have contributed to your career goals.

Graduate school is strengthening everyone’s research skills. That’s the point. Instead: What specific research or teaching opportunities have you taken advantage of in graduate school?

As you write your proposal, remember that reviewers already know the clichés. They don’t want to hear feel-good statements about what you think; they want to see what you’ve done. So don’t tell them – show them!

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