Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Good Grant Writing Blurs the Lines between Fact and Fiction

On Sunday I attended an elegant house-warming and BBQ in the wine country with a friend. During the party, I had an interesting conversation with a patent attorney. 
We started our conversation with the customary pleasantries and the standard introductory question between guys, “So what do you do?” Rightly or wrongly, it’s how guys break the ice until we retire when we ask things like, “What’s your handicap? Or who did your hip replacement?” But I digress.
We – the lawyer and I – talked about styles of writing in both of our professions. I drew from our discussion that writing a patent application is not unlike applying for a grant. This man’s assessment of grant writing is that the two kinds of writing are quite similar.
I explained that grant writing is a mixture of writing about factual information and fictional writing (kind of Orwell-style futuristic fiction).  Grant writing describes a future state to be created with grant funds.
He explained to me that this is similar to what he must produce when writing a patent application.  In addition to the technical aspects of the patent, he must describe the future benefits and functions of this yet-to-be produced widget, a future state based on the present facts.
Grant writers must be skillful in describing the future state. My advice to aspiring grant writers about how to achieve this unique style of writing, which would, perhaps, similarly edify aspiring patent attorneys, is this;
1)      Spend time with your client to adequately understand the future state desired,
Your imagination may produce sparkling fictional narrative, but if your client seeks a rocket to Mars and you write a grant sending him to Venus, you’ll have written an unachievable or undesired program.
2)      Write about this future state in a positive, can-do manner, with sufficient detail to make it a believable narrative,
Good fiction delivers the reader into a created world where they willingly suspend disbelief and buy in to the feasibility of the program design. Your grant narrative must deliver the program design in a way that the reader never stops nodding in agreement.
3)      Ground your optimistic description of the future state on the facts at hand.
The best fiction is grounded in facts that blur the lines between what’s real and what’s possible. The moment you force your reader to stop and ask themselves whether you’re proposing something plausible, you’re sunk.
My conversation with the attorney made me curious about how similar the writing styles actually are, or whether he was being over-generous in his assessment. I’ll conduct a search with Google this week to see if I can find a patent application to read. I suspect that if the style and level of difficulty are similar that, based the extravagance of his new vacation home, the main difference is to be found in our invoice for services.

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Photo Credit: Rosa Ballada

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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.