I had to edit the final draft of a grant at work today, prior to a 9am submission deadline looming tomorrow. Coming from an English lit and university-heavy background, I have a tendency to being verbose and to wrote long paragraphs ad nauseum. I do like long descriptive paragraphs, and figurative language – our English language has such a rich and textured vocabulary – but there is a time and a place of such a style, and municipal government is not it.
It has taken me several years to develop a secondary style of writing, parallel to a high literary style in the sense that it comes from me and is unique to me, but is more succinct and simple. My current director taught me the usefulness of breaking out lists that appear in sentences, whether those lists be of single nouns or phrases, and bulleting them. I was quite resistant at first, as this goes contrary to what a good arts-based university essay would incorporate, but it does make sense when you think about your audience in terms of local government.
Firstly, if you think that most newspapers are written for a Grade 5 or 6 literacy level, you really have to keep your language simple for an audience made up of a varied set of individuals who may or may not have a high school diploma, a degree, like to read, hate to read, love textual shortcuts, hate having to look words up etc…
Secondly, lists help to break out ideas, that inexperienced readers would otherwise have a difficult time identifying. I will stress here that it is a good rule of thumb to assume that you have inexperienced readers, and I by that I mean that they likely have not had the opportunity to learn how to analyze text through a critical lens, and really want to read in a WYSIWYG style (What You See Is What You get).
Thirdly, lists are visually easier to take in.
So how does this all relate to grants? It is almost a good rule to not have paragraphs that are more than four or five sentences in length; if they go over, chop them in half. If you have complex lists embedded in sentences, break those list out into bullets and I usually err on the side of including punctuation. Just keep in mind that you need to retain a parallel grammatical structure at the beginning of each bullet, so always have the same type of noun, or same verb tense at the start of each bullet.
If you can make it easier for the grant reviewer to read your application, you’ve already increased your odds of success, especially if they’ve already been drudging through tens of applications at the point that they start to read yours.