Friday, January 2, 2009

The Value of Readers' Comments

One of the things I do when I start preparing to re-write a grant that was unsuccessful in the past is pull out the readers' comments to review the opinions of the original readers who did not score the proposal well enough for funding. The plan is always to update any demographic information, be sure that the proposal is compliant with the requirements of the current RFP, and make any necessary modifications to the proposal based on the readers' comments.

Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Here's why:
  • The readers' comments are often contradictory. It is not uncommon for two readers to have completely different views of a particular issue in a grant. I can't tell you how many times I have seen something listed as a strength by one reader and as a weakness by another reader.
  • The readers' comments are sometimes biased. There are times when a reader's bias against a particular approach or curriculum is clear from his comments. If you are using an evidence-based program and it's clear that you happened to get reader who just doesn't like that program, there's nothing you can do.
  • The readers' comments are sometimes just flat wrong. There have been many times where I have seen a reader comment that something was left out of a proposal when the review of the proposal shows that it was not omitted. I try to keep in mind that not all readers read every proposal as carefully as they should, and that a proposal read at the end of the day will not be read as closely as one read early in they day, but it still annoys me when a comment is simply incorrect.

In spite of these issues with readers' comments, I still do my best to get what I can out of them.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the readers' comments:

  1. Check your ego at the door. It's hard not to be defensive when someone else is critiquing your work, but if you want to be successful, you must be able to view the comments as objectively as possible. Don't assume bias from the outset. Tell yourself that you are going to learn something from the comments to make the proposal, or your writing in general, better, and then look for what you can learn.
  2. Hear what is being communicated regardless of what was said. For example, if a reader says that I left something out of a proposal, and I review the proposal and find that this is not true, I am convinced that the lesson for me should be that the issue the reader was unable to find was not presented clearly or prominently enough. I carefully review the original proposal again. Did I make the point in question clearly, or did I offer it in passing? Would the proposal be stronger if I repeat or re-state that point? Would it be stronger if I italicize or bold the point? The point the reader is making is not necessarily that the point in question was not in the proposal (even though that's what he said), but that it wasn't presented prominently and clearly enough for the reader to catch it.
  3. Use your best judgement. Review the comments. Honestly try to assess if you believe it is a valid issue that merits a change in your proposal. If so, make a change. If not, let it go. I am particularly critical of comments that come from only one reader. If something was clear to the other two readers, I'll make it a bit stronger if I can, but sometimes it's juts worth rolling the dice that you'll get three reasonable readers next time - especially if the first two readers scored your proposal very highly.
  4. Get someone else's opinion. Sometimes it is just too difficult to step away from your own work enough to see the comments clearly without being too defensive. If that's the case, ask someone you trust who does not have a vested interest in the proposal to review both the comments and the proposal for you. That person's opinion may make everything much more clear for you.

No comments:

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.