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Less is more… Our top 10 tips to editing back grant applications

November 25, 2021

Carmel Meredew
Proposal Manager

When applying for grants, applicants are faced with looming word count restrictions, which can sometimes feel particularly challenging to meet. These limits vary according to competition type, for example, Innovate UK SMART grants ask for 400 words per question, while Biomedical Catalyst applications allow 600 words. To avoid confusion, it is always best to double-check the criteria relevant to your chosen competition.

It is important to remember that these word counts are actual limits, and not recommendations or writing targets, with online portals possessing automatic cut-off points when the appropriate wordcount is reached. It is therefore incredibly important for applicants to use these precious words in the most effective manner, and relay to the assessor the significance of your application.

Here are our top 10 tips for getting that word count down:

1.       Trim down wordy phrases, adverbs, adjectives, and unnecessary transitions. Don’t fear, applications don’t need to exhibit the most fluid style and fluent sentence structure. Elegant sentences can often be sacrificed for content, with short, punchy phrases presenting information in a much clearer and more digestible way to the assessor.

2.       No introduction necessary. You don’t need to introduce your application, the assessor is ready and waiting to jump into your application, start with attention-grabbing stats and statements to pique their interest.

3.       Essential vs Nonessential. Now, normally this is the biggest obstacle facing word counts. It can be incredibly challenging to identify essential information and remove redundant text in your own writing. Here, branching out to your critical friend (see one of our previous blog posts https://bit.ly/3FKkzZr for our tips) or outsourcing to an external organisation can be the most effective means of filtering out unwanted material, both time- and results-wise.

4.       Shortcuts. Symbols are a brilliant way to reduce the word count of stats and figures fast. E.g., >, <, ~, + etc. This can be especially useful when detailing the market, for example, ‘people65 years and over’, can become ‘people +65 years’. Similarly, hyphens (-) and slashes (/), can be used where appropriate. Take care when using more unique symbols, as some may not be transferable to the application portal.

5.       Structure. Establishing a structure for your application can help to guide your answers, avoid content repetition, and control word count. Sub-headings indicate sections of text in the place of long, introductory sentences. Bullet-points, or numbering offers a clear way of presenting concise points to the reader, without the need for wordy paragraphs.

6.       Avoid repetition

7.       Avoid repetition

8.       Abbreviations (Abbn). The names of companies, organisations or institutions are a great addition to applications, whether that be through strengthening the credibility of the team’s work experience or conveying the accuracy of market research and data. However, they can be wordy. When repeated throughout the body of text, providing abbreviations is a quick-fire way to cut words e.g., Cancer Research UK can become CRUK or Innovate UK can become IUK. Just remember to always provide the full name with abbreviation in brackets when the name is first used before subsequent use of the abbreviation in the text.

9.       Don’t forget the appendices. Appendices are available for certain application questions (this varies according to competition so make sure to double check competition details). These offer a brilliant opportunity to present information you are not able to fit within the main text word limits. Details can be presented in tabular form or diagrams to maximise space and to relay information most effectively to the assessor. If you are given 2A4 pages, use the full 2 A4 pages!

10.   Take it step-by-step. When formulating answers to questions, many start with a ‘mind dump’, throwing every idea, detail and thought onto a document. This is great! And although this can provide and over abundance of text, it is a great starting point for refinement. Once you have a basic narrative on paper, it is useful to go through the content with a fine-tooth comb. Ask yourself, does this sentence, word, paragraph add value? Does it tick a box on the assessors’ checklist? Or is it, in reality, unnecessary padding, with no impact on the message if it is removed? Take a cyclical approach to this process. Work your way through the document and check the word count again and repeat this exercise. We find this gradual sieving through of material the best way to minimise the collateral damage of editing down, and supplying assessors with high-quality, information-dense applications.

For more information about how we can support you with your grant application, contact us here

November 25, 2021
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