Coastal research grants: Draft an outline

Author: Zofia Knorek

We’ve made it to the third of six posts in the #CoastalResearchGrants blog series. We’re walking through the steps of preparing a proposal for a coastal research grant using the Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Fellowship application as a specific case study. Recall that “grant writing” is really ~80% preparation and only ~20% writing. The suggestions from the first two weeks were focused on the things you should read about and the folks you should talk to about your ideas before you start writing. By now, you should have a somewhat firm understanding of the task ahead of you: what the components of the application are, who you need those components from, and when you need them by. Ideally, you’ve started thinking about the why and where of your project and discussed it with your advisor and the program coordinators.

This week, we’ll continue exploring the why and where concepts of your application, but the primary focus will be on how. How will you get the application assembled? Start by making a plan and getting yourself organized with an outline. 

Remember, you’re usually not starting from scratch!

Look for content and inspiration on how to structure your application package in the following places:

  1. The Davidson Fellowship Request for Proposals (RFP). Start with the required application components and use the numbered list included in the RFP verbatim as your section headers. You can also use two different planning worksheets that we have adapted for grant writing workshops: POME$ Chart (Problem, Objective, Methods, Evaluation, $/Budget) and a 1-page Coastal Grant Project Planning Worksheet.
  2. 2020 application materials from current Davidson Fellow Marae Lindquist West and the author of this post, Zofia Knorek. You have access to at least two applications, but perhaps even more--remember to ask your lab mates and peers if they have applications they’d be willing to share.
  3. Your prior proposals/additional written content. If you have a couple paragraphs of background information written in preliminary research materials or another proposal, start by transforming that information back to an outline format. Sometimes that looks like full sentences as bullets, but the point is to distill out the key information. This exercise makes a blank page far less daunting. 

The Problem Statement and Background Information section is where you show the funding agency how your idea is relevant to their needs, and your opportunity to hook them with explaining why the question is important to answer. The Project Approach is where you detail your specific questions/aims and methods.

Consider the following guiding questions as you develop your outline:

  • How do your goals and objectives overlap or fit with the management plan(s) and strategic plan?
  • How will you evaluate your work if you are awarded the fellowship? Think about both 1) what statistical analyses you plan to use to interpret your data and 2) how you’ll determine the “success” of your project. If you’re planning a specific stakeholder activity, how will you measure impact?

The more detailed you make each section of your outline, the easier it will be for you to write a full draft of each component. You can build your outline iteratively, as we started to here--start with the basic requirements or “bare bones”, then start to flesh it out. There is no one correct way to go about this process. If you have an approach that works for you, use it! 

Closing thoughts: 

Spoiler alert--I made an outline for this entire blog series. I started with a basic outline of the weekly topics I wanted to cover, and then filled in the details week by week. I use an agenda to outline my day. I use a trail map to outline my hiking routes. The point is that outlines are super versatile tools, so use them in a way that works for you. Indeed, outlines are so critical to the grant writing process that the first basic rule in Karsh and Fox’s The only grant-writing book you'll ever need is “Before You Write One Word, Make an Outline” (more on some of the other rules next week). So don’t skip it! 

Catch you next week. For reference, the topics for this series are:

  1. Before you write…
  2. Solicit early feedback 
  3. Draft an outline (this post)
  4. Write the project description
  5. Prepare a budget and additional materials
  6. Assemble and polish the application package

Questions? Requests for content to cover in future posts? Have a resource you think everyone should know about? Join the discussion with the #CoastalResearchGrants hashtag.

Don’t forget the Davidson Fellowship is due December 10, 2021!

Zofia Knorek (@zofiaknorek, she/her) is a PhD candidate in ecology at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences and the 2020 Coastal Training Program grant writing intern with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. 

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