Proposal Writing in the Age of Twitter

cheryl-clarkeWelcome guest blogger Cheryl Clarke. Here’s Cheryl’s words of wisdom on proposal writing in the age of twitter.

Twitter proposals.  That’s what I call those online grant application forms that ask a series of questions which applicants must answer within a specified word, or even character, count.  Can a nonprofit agency effectively tell its proposal story given such severe space restrictions?  It’s not easy, but it can be done. 

Online application forms require grantwriters to go on a verbal diet and write low-fat proposals rather than more caloric full-blown narratives.  For most of us, this means that online proposals are more challenging to draft.  Why?  Because we’ve got to make each word count.  We do not have the luxury of slowly building our case for support.  We’ve got to get straight to the point without taking a lot of descriptive detours.  Knowing what to include, as well as what to leave out, is essential.  What guides our decision-making?  Here are four “rules” I follow in preparing online applications.

• Focus on answering only the question that is being asked.  Unlike a tradition proposal narrative where the writer often has a little more flexibility in presenting the story’s sequence, the questions in an online application form dictate the narrative flow.  Writers must focus on the question at hand and should not digress into other topics as doing so will eat words and further limit the amount of available space. 

• Think of each answer as a mini story that must be complete in and of itself.  At minimum, each response requires a topic sentence that introduces the issue being discussed, a sentence or two that elaborates on the topic, and finally a concluding sentence that resolves the issue.  Naturally, if the application allows a greater word count, the mini story can be expanded.

• Don’t be afraid to use a descriptive word or phrase, just do so judiciously.  A well-chosen adjective or adverb adds color and often emotional depth to an answer.  Dispense with vague descriptive words such as “unique” and “innovative.”  Instead, show the reviewer what makes your agency’s work unique and how your agency’s service delivery is innovative.

• Write, review, edit, then edit again.  To ensure the required brevity of answers, first write a draft response to the question asked, then review and edit what’s been written, then edit again.  Be merciless with the editing pen and seek to eliminate all unnecessary words.

With a 400-word count for this article, this story’s end has been reached!

Learn more about Cheryl Clarke’s expertise, services, workshops and books!

3 responses to “Proposal Writing in the Age of Twitter

  1. Hello,
    I am trying to open a outreach center for the homeless people in Texas but I am needing some help with getting the material for writting a Business Proposal and I wanted to know if you could guide me alittle.

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    • Hi Shay! We would suggest contact the small business administration office in your area. they often have workshops on creating a business plan. Another great source for assistance is SCORE – they have retired executives that can talk with you about business issues. Finally we would suggest talking with the people in your community (or adjacent ones) that are already providing a similar service. We believe that fundraising should be a major component of your business plan. here are links to information on how to create a fundraising plan. It is a two part article we wrote. Part One and Part Two. We hope this is helpful. – Mel and Pearl

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  2. Yes your right about online proposal are the most challenging because of the limited words/characters that will be use. We have to make our words direct to that point.

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