Hi, my name is Norm, and I am verbose. It doesn’t happen as often when I’m speaking (that’s what I’m telling myself to feel better), but when I write, I have a serious problem. I use more words than I need. I am trying so hard right now to be concise!
Because of this problem, when it comes to grant writing, I have experienced some difficult days trying to edit my work to fit into the funder’s word count box. I find it frustrating, and at times difficult, trying to cut words while ensuring the vision of my project does not get lost, as I bring it down from a beautiful 630 words to a funder’s mandated 400. Those are obviously 230 of the most important words I have ever written, and I’m being asked to remove them.
Have you lived this nightmare?
OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. It’s not really a nightmare, but writing in concise ways to fit grant proposal word counts is a tough task. I understand it, and I’m not trying to fight it, I just know that more than a few grant writers have shared this same sentiment.
At GrantsEdge, we are always looking for ways to make your grant writing easier and more efficient, so because we know the word count issue exists, we have put together some suggestions for being more concise in your writing and have provided you with some tips for cutting words without losing important meaning.
Avoid Gratuitous Phrases
There are a number of phrases we use, that if removed, can get us closer to the word count on our grant application while keeping all our meaning in tact. Avoid using phrases like:
- “At the present time”
- “For all intents and purposes”
- “In the event that”
- “On the other hand”
- “The ways in which”
Long Version: The bus driver explained the ways in which his route was extended.
Short Version: The bus driver explained how his route was extended.
In this simple example, we have lost three words without any difficulty at all. The more you can trim meaningless or unhelpful phrases to unclutter your sentences, the fewer words you will use.
Redundancy in our writing happens all too often. Here are some classic examples of ways that writers are unnecessarily repetitious.
- “Personal opinion”
- “End result”
- “Free gift”
- “Period of one week”
- “Basic fundamentals”
- “Filled to capacity”
- “Actual experience”
The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. A few of these examples are from the Daily Writing Tips website. If you want to see more, check this out: 50 redundant phrases to avoid.
When trying to reduce your word count, also watch for phrases that echo the quality in the statement:
- “Oval in shape”
- “Larger in size”
- “Shorter in duration”
When writing your grant proposal, be careful to avoid being redundant and when editing, be as ruthless as possible to remove words and phrases that are repetitive and therefore irrelevant.
Be Careful Of Unnecessary Modifiers
Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” If Stephen King said it, it must be true.
Modifiers are words or phrases that give additional detail about the subject discussed in a sentence and tend to be descriptive words, such as adjectives and adverbs. Not all modifiers are bad, as they can be used to help engage a reader. However, they do create additional detail in a sentence that can take up valuable space when we have the opportunity to be more concise.
In grant writing, adjectives and adverbs are often used in the place of evidence, so be sure to replace them with quantities, data, dates, and quotes.
Here are some examples of modifiers you may be able to cut from your next proposal to keep the word count down:
- Kind of
“It’s a very warm day.” While the word very intensifies the word warm, in most cases, the word very and the word it modifies, in this case warm, can be eliminated and replaced with a single word that is more concise: “It’s a hot day.”
By eliminating the modifier, you can use fewer words and be more concise.
With all this advice, I’m thinking you can probably be basically kind of short and to the point with your very nice proposal. See what I did there?
Restructure, Reword, And Rewrite
It can be beneficial to have someone other than the original writer edit and revise your grant proposal, as it is often difficult to review your own work. Through that process, have the editor trim words by restructuring sentences to limit the word count. It may mean going over the proposal a few times and looking at it from different angles, but cutting a number of sentences back can go a long way toward making your proposal fit the funder’s guidelines.
You’d be surprised by the number of times grant writers use more words than they have to in a sentence. (20 words)
It’s surprising how often grant writers use more words than necessary in a sentence. (14 words)
Grant writers often use more words than necessary. (8 words)
Avoid Over-Complicated And/Or Flowery Language
Outside of writing a poem for your favourite loved one, flowery or eloquent words are not needed and shouldn’t be used when writing grant proposals. Your mission is to be clear and concise, not impress a funder with your level of vocabulary. The group reading your grant application should never need to reach for the dictionary or Google your words to make sure they understand them.
Flowery: We made such a grandiloquent verbal exodus from the gathering that everyone in our immediate proximity was agog, their mouths fluctuating and trilling in surprise. (25 words)
Simple: Our parting comments left everyone at the party speechless and surprised. (11 words)
Grant writers are also guilty of over-complicating their writing. When looking to cut the word count, an editor should be able to find ways to simplify the language. This is a prime example of where saying less not only helps your word count, but may get your point across more clearly to the reader.
Over-complicated: High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process. (17 words)
Simple: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly. (10 words)
You Can Do It!
It takes time to develop the skill of writing in ways that are clear and concise. If you continue to practice and seek feedback from those with experience, it is a talent that can be honed and developed. Enhancing your own editing skills can also greatly affect how you communicate to your readers.
Don’t be frustrated next time your writing doesn’t fit inside a funder’s word count. Use it as an opportunity to be more clear and concise in sharing your ideas.
Now It’s Your Turn.
Go back to a previous grant you have written – a section you are likely to utilize again in an upcoming grant (i.e. the Organizational Overview) – and use the suggestions above to trim your work by at least 30 words.