Drafting your grant to highlight its unique selling points (Grant writing 3/7)


Welcome back to my blog post series on grant writing. I am using the writing process to provide an easy, structured approach to grant writing.  As I’ve mentioned, grant writing isn’t hard: it’s damn hard! If you hold any kind of academic appointment you’re eventually going to have to figure out a good process for grant writing.

This the 3rd post in a series of 7, I will be posting a serialized manual on the grant writing process.

Now, on to Step 2: Drafting.

Unique selling points

The second step of the writing process is drafting. We’ve made some type of map or outline and now we really begin to write.

Drafting your grant involves more than putting words on paper. Draft your grant according to the unique selling points (USPs) your work has to offer. Unique selling points come from the world of advertising and consist of three parts:

  1. A USP must make a proposition to its audience (“buy this product for this specific benefit”)
  2. A USP must make a proposition that the competition cannot offer (“buy this product because it is one-of-a-kind”)
  3. A USP must make a proposition that is attractive to a general audience (“buy this product because you can understand what it does”)

In research, USPs operate around a philosophy of being relevant to a general audience because you have no way to predict your reviewers’ disciplinary alignment. Even if you’re applying for specialty funding (e.g., The Kidney Foundation of Canada) you have no way to predict whether or not your reviewers are molecular biologists studying nephrons or health services researchers studying organ transplant allocation patterns.

Prevalence, population, significance, cost and innovation

A useful heuristic I am borrowing from my colleague Alex Clark involves writing your health research grants around 5 USPs:

  1. Prevalence (“the topic of this grant offers a past, present and future I understand”)
  2. Population (“the topic of this grant offers a clear benefit to a vulnerable or neglected population”)
  3. Significance (“the topic of this grant offers positive outcomes for individuals, our health system and society”)
  4. Cost (“the topic of this grant offers cost reduction to our health system”)
  5. Innovation (“the topic of this grant offers a transferable innovation that will proceed from the project”)

Drafting a grant should follow whatever framework for a proposal is set out by the opportunity’s guidelines. Often this framework takes the form of preamble, introduction, methods, plan of study, team roles, and budget. So important is this framework that it will be the focus of my next blog post.

Leave your thoughts

Q1 What are the unique selling points of your research?

Q2 What’s your approach to drafting a research grant? Does the above approach resonate?

Other Resources

Alex Clark is a brilliant researcher and well-established grant writer. Consider following him on Twitter.

A five-step approach including some useful heuristics for drafting writing.


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


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

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