Pre-writing to establish a strong base for your grant (Grant writing 2/7)

Google_Brainstorming_by_Skulltrail - Copy

The first step of the writing process is pre-writing. You may remember this taking the form of brainstorming or free-writing. My mantra for this series is that grant writing isn’t hard: it’s damn hard! But if you hold any kind of academic appointment you’re eventually going to have to figure out a good process for grant writing.


First and foremost, before beginning to write your grant ensure you have a printed copy of the 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 criteria.

Next, the fun part. Arm yourself with a pencil and paper, or open up a document in Microsoft Word and write your answers these key questions:

  • How have I ensured that this research is a good idea? How have I ensured I’m asking the right research questions?
  • How have I ensured the scope of my study is feasible, ethical and attractive to reviewers?
  • How have I ensured this is the right opportunity? Do I meet ALL eligibility requirements?
  • Am I working with the right people? If not, do I need to enlist additional collaborators?

Write your responses in the form of a memo you can return back to as your grant emerges. Writing should play a role in idea generation at throughout your study.


Pre-writing for grants is your self-assessment about whether or not you are ready to apply for the funding opportunity. You might be thinking, of course I’m ready! But remember, major grants are often extremely competitive. As my colleague Roger Graves reminds us, top-tier baseball players earning millions of dollars per year need to hit one of every four pitches; while top tier grants often have a success rate of less than one in five. To continue the analogy, pre-writing is batting practice.

Over 80% of applicants spend dozens of hours preparing to apply for these opportunities only to be rejected by reviewers. Can you look yourself in the mirror and be sure you’re going to be in the highest percentile?

Leave your thoughts

Q1 Where do you begin when you are preparing to write a grant?

Q2 What pre-writing or brainstorming strategies work / don’t work for you?

Other Resources

Roger Graves homepage, Roger is a fantastic writing scholar and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Alberta.

Argumentative Moves in SSHRC Grant Writing, a useful presentation by Roger and Heather Graves looking at grant writing rhetoric

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