When you’re stuck writing major sections of another person’s grant

Steve Simon


I was helping someone write a grant when I got that request that I always dread, “Can you write this section of the grant.” I hate those requests for a personal reason–I’d much rather tell someone else what to do than to actually do it myself. One of the great joys of consulting is being able to boss other people around. But there’s a serious reason why I dislike this. I believe that a grant should be written by one person, with guidance of course by other experts. But one person needs to have at least a passing level of familiarity with each and every aspect of the grant; enough familiarity that they can write the entire grant. It also assures consistency of tone and language. But there are often reasons why this can’t be done, and if you’re stuck writing major sections of someone else’s grant, you need to write your section of the grant so that it fits in well with the rest of the grant. There’s a famous saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. You want to make sure that the completed protocol does not come out looking like a camel. If certain sections have abrupt transitions, use different terms for the same thing, and have radical changes in writing style, you’ve got problems. You won’t get things perfect, and I certainly didn’t with this project. But the closer you get, the better the grant will be.

You could be bull-headed about this and write your section in the language and style you think works best, and it will be so well written and such an exemplar that the authors of the other sections will immediately adapt to your way of writing. That’s actually not a bad option if you have the luxury of time. Your writing style may or may not be the best, but if you deliberately write in a different style, then the others on your team can look at the effect of this writing style versus their writing style. Most of the time, of course, you wouldn’t be asked to write major sections of someone else’s grant unless the time frame was already very tight. If time is tight, you can’t afford to go off marching to the beat of a different drummer.

To insure consistency, ask for everything that’s already been written, even sections like the literature review, which is something that you may not think that you need to write your section. Nag the other authors about this, even if they only have an early draft. When you get this material read it through twice. Here are some of areas where inconsistency can creep in:

You might also find this checklist helpful if you are consolidating the writing of several other people into a single cohesive grant. Make sure to look at voice, pronouns, descriptions of patients, and so forth, and rewrite anything of anyone else that has a major deviation. You may be uncomfortable rewording someone else’s words, but you absolutely, positively, 100% must do this. You can check to make sure that you haven’t mangled someone else’s ideas, but do that the time to rewrite. If you drop in major sections unedited, you will end up with a camel.

You can find an earlier version of this page on my original website.