Using process writing to strengthen your grant applications (Grant writing 1/7)

Photo Credit: Iris Waanders

Photo Credit: Iris Waanders

You’re eventually going to have to figure out a process for grant writing if you hold any kind of academic appointment. Grant writing isn’t hard, it’s damn hard. That moment reading the criteria for applying for a major award can feel like being at Everest base camp: you’ve worked hard to get where you are but you have a long, difficult road ahead. Professionally, I wear two hats. I am a health researcher and I am a writing instructor. Usually I am wearing one hat or the other, but grant writing is one area in my health research career where I find my background in writing comes in quite handy.

The purpose of this post is to remind you of a simple tool you learned in school that can be applied to win grants.

What do I know?

As a doctoral student I’ve successfully written four competitive grants, where competition is high and success rates are low. As a member of a research team, I’ve provided support for five more successful grants. More importantly, I’ve also written six unsuccessful grants, and provided support for two more unsuccessful grants. So as writer or collaborator, I’ve been involved in 17 grants.

I’ve also written at least a dozen non-competitive grants, where competition is negligible and success rates are high. Along the way I’ve learned a lot and now I want to share it on my blog.

Using the process writing to plan your grants

Everyone remembers the writing process from primary school:

Step 1: Pre-writing
Step 2: Drafting
Step 3: Revising
Step 4: Editing
Step 5: Final Draft

While process writing has been largely dismissed by writing scholars, in my experience as a writing instructor and health researcher the process writing is a wonderful approach for structuring grants. Why? Post-process writing approaches were developed to allow students space for creativity and reflection. Grant writing on the other hand is not the time for creativity or reflection. Unlike student writing, grant writing is regimental, businesslike, and systematic. To ensure all of the strict requirements of a grant are met, one needs to adhere to a strict process.

In the following weeks, I will be posting a serialized manual on the grant writing process.  Tune in each week, for the next step.  As a bonus challenge, consider taking a grant you are working on (or about to start), start from the first step, and work through the next few weeks with me.

But first, a needs assessment

In the comment section below, answer the following questions:
Q1:  What was the hardest part of your grant writing experience?
Q2:  Do you consider the above steps part of your grant writing?

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Other resources

Grant Writing – one of my past posts based on discussions with a local research officer

The Art of Writing a CIHR application – a useful government document with great tips for anyone, not just folks applying for CIHR

The Top 8 Things to do to write great grants – another useful CIHR resource


  1. […] grant’s criteria. Granting agencies often provide invaluable style guides, as I mentioned in my last post. Read, re-read and if possible memorize these […]


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