October 30, 2017

Devil on Your Shoulder: Overcoming 4 Bad Habits that Can Sink Your Grant

Ball State’s Donna Browne led SPA’s latest colloquium on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 in the Arts and Journalism Building.

Browne is a grant writer here on campus. She works with the Center for Energy Research Education and Service.

Her lecture focused on four bad habits that can sink your grant and how to avoid them.

Not to worry, as Browne said “Most of these things are under our control, so they are totally solvable.”

The Habits
Browne uses the shoulder devil versus the shoulder angel
to explain these four bad grant writing habits.

“We’re going to be looking at four trends that I’ve noticed in faculty work that have adversely impacted their ability to put together a really solid, competitive proposal,” said Browne.


When you are tempted to improvise you may be feeling excited, eager and you just want to take action on your awesome project idea already. All of those feelings are good, until improvisation negatively affects your proposal.

  • Make sure the grant you are applying for fits your grant perfectly
  • Make sure you meet all of the requirements and are eligible to apply
  • Make sure your project goals and objectives are relevant and match with the organization’s goals
  • Make sure your timeline and the sponsor's timeline are compatible 
  • Develop a concept paper in advance 
  • Follow the directions in the guidelines to the letter
  • Make your budget specific 
  • Pay attention to the details

  • Apply for the first grant you hear of, because you’re excited and think it might fit
  • Just go for it and say you can figure out the details later
  • Apply without developing all aspects of your idea into a solid project
  • Try to move too quickly and spend little time on it
  • Make any mistakes

Rugged Individualism

When you are tempted to express rugged individualism you may be feeling frustration because things aren’t going well, independent, and excited to leap in already.

  • Obtain committed, well-defined partnerships (research partner, community partner, or even your funder)
  • Develop interpersonal relationships
  • Talk through and agree on project commitments with your partner, and put them in writing 
  • Find on-campus support staff to help you develop your best project (SPA or other grant writers) 
  • Be receptive to criticism and feedback 
  • Make sure your proposal expresses your voice and your passion, while still being incredibly detailed 
  • Write in clear English for an “educated layperson” and keep it short 

  • Be a lonely scholar and try to do everything on your own
  • Submit anything without having fresh eyes look at it for proofing (text and budgets), as there is no room for error


When you are tempted to assume you may be feeling confused and frustrated. While underneath that confusion you may be feeling fear or not wanting to put aside your ego in order to ask questions, but never assume you know the answer.

  • Ask questions 
  • Talk to the program officer, they are there to help you. They are your partner and they want to see your best proposal submitted 
  • Make sure your partners' commitments are clear and mutually understood 

  • Assume you know the answer to ANYTHING 
  • Don’t assume your partners’ automatically know and understand their commitments


When you know you are procrastinating you are probably feeling stressed and confused. You may also be experiencing an underlying fear, because you feel you cannot deal with it right now.

  • Know that EVEVRY part of a grant proposal TAKES TIME (ideation, writing, editing, meetings, etc.) 
  • Submit a proposal before the due date, as it may take time to go through 
  • Make a weekly work plan and stick to it 

  • Forget to give yourself deadlines before the actual deadline of the grant submission 
  • Forget to give yourself a time cushion 

Faculty take notes as Browne explains
the bad habits often seen with faculty.
Reality Check

The reality check is that grants take a lot of time and there is just no way around it.

Browne summed it up best by saying, “If you’re going to do the grant, you’ve got to do the grant, because competition is fierce and there will always be more applicants than there is grant funding.”

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