Having a prior common understanding of the steps and process involved in achieving a submission-ready grant application helps collaborative grant writing teams work seamlessly.  Before we even start writing we are assuming that all team members have reviewed the guidelines, have reviewed any additional information about the grant process such as checklists and are familiar with the project (or area they will be contributing to) and we have assembled everything we need to begin to work (needed quotes, support documents, partnership agreements, research sources, ).  It is essential that no one who has not read the guidelines write anything for the grant as they might introduce fatal errors that at best will waste time correcting and at worst could lead to the failure of the application. So at the outset team members have to be prepared to recuse themselves if they lack the time to get up to speed.

Rough Draft:

At the rough draft stage we need to:

  • Create a working document or documents via either working on a copy of an application form OR ,if the application is to be entered in an online portal, create a working document from all the questions contained in the application inclusive of any information about word/character count or other notes.   Ideally create this document in a collaborative writing space such as a wiki or Google Drive. The weakness of passing documents back and forth or using a shared storage space such as Drop Box is confusion caused by proliferation of copies and the potential for an editor to replace the most recent copy with older copy. Don’t forget to include the description fields for document upload as you may not be able to create descriptions of video and audio uploads without input. You may need to create several documents if there are charts or tables as a part of the document.  If the budget document in the grant application is unduly restrictive, you may wish to additionally create a working budget document.  If working collaboratively, create the documents in a collaborative cloud space and share both documents and the folder with collaborators.
  • Next add rough content to the document including cut and paste content from your fodder documents (boiler plate, past applications, project descriptions, email, etc.)  Don’t worry about number of words, grammar, or spelling at this point.
  • Mark up content flagging where content is missing, answers are needed and where additional work may need to be done (seek quotes, do research, ask permissions, look up addresses) Assign names to tasks where possible.

First Review Tasks:

  • Go through and highlight the best/most pertinent points in your copy with attention to what addresses the question and the program guidelines best.  Query how these points might be expanded for further development
  • Assign the tasks to assemble missing information with deadlines attached .

First Full Draft:

Once the deadline for follow-up tasks to the Rough Draft stage is past, begin work on the First Draft.  This will be a complete, compliant first grant submission copy by the time it is complete.
During this phase you will:

  • Combine all pertinent facts into coherent answers addressing the question, avoiding duplication and within word count.
  • Where there is extra content that seems valid, save it separately in case it can be used in another question, or, on reflection to be included in the Final Draft as substitute copy.
  • Complete all charts, schedules, lists, budgets and, if needed, adjust narrative answers consistent with budget, schedules, etc.


  • Review answers for any duplication or omissions and shift content as appropriate to questions as a first step
  • Review answers for sense, grammar, consistent tense, and tone/voice.  You want to be active, positive and have a voice/language appropriate to the program.  Writing for an arts council is different than writing for a community board.  Don’t use jargon or academic language unless you are sure it is appropriate to the funder.
  • Review the budget for notes and compliance to guidelines (e.g. percentage of admin costs, ineligible items)
  • Send out First Draft for review by team members pointing out places for their specific review.  Ask them not to edit the copy but to provide comments in order to preserve word count and style.
  • Tweaking the First Draft in response to feedback, you now have a second draft and are ready to create your final draft. 

Final Draft:

  • Begin to enter your copy into the application final form or grant portal highlighting each section of your working copy and marking it “entered”.  You may have to make tiny edits at this stage due to inconsistency in the way character and word count may be counted by online platforms.
  • If possible generate a print copy of the final submission for review before submitting and share document that way, otherwise ask team members to review  Take a last look at guidelines and funder information to see if anything has been missed.
  • Upload all necessary attachments if that has not been done previously
  • If possible at this point “validate” your application to check for any missing questions, attachments.
  • Once everyone has signed off on the final draft, you are ready to push “Submit”.

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Difficulties in Grant Writing:

  • Spend adequate time on research, review and assembling materials.  Expect this to take 50% or more of the time spent on working on the total grant.
  • Do not have editors on your team who are not fully aware of the project and grant guidelines;  last minute ill-advised editing, often by a manager, is a common cause of application failures so keep the editing team small and knowledgeable.
  • Do not edit for grammar, voice, etc too early as you waste time editing content you might never use
  • Agree on one editor for tense, grammar, voice.  Don’t waste time with editing back and forth on style issues
  • Don’t apply fancy formatting.  It won’t translate to most forms and where it is possible is best done at the very end.
  • Have a common understanding of what is meant by “rough draft”, “first draft” and “final draft.”  This is essential to success, and prevents  conflict.

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