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Avoid confusing acronyms in grant proposals

Anything that interferes with a reader’s first-pass comprehension of a grant proposal detracts from its competitiveness. “There are many ways to damage the clarity of a proposal’s narrative,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Grant seekers know they’ve got to avoid typographical and grammatical errors, but may not understand the danger of acronyms.”


“I’ve seen proposals that are awash in abbreviations, and ones that include footnotes defining the numerous acronyms used on each page,” said Floersch. “This damages the coherence of the document and places a tremendous burden on the reader.”


The rule of thumb is that abbreviations and acronyms are fine as long as you spell each out at its first appearance in a document and immediately include the abbreviation in parentheses, e.g., Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The rule also suggests that no more than three abbreviations be used in any document. “Grant proposals are a totally different environment,” said Floersch. “Even three poorly executed abbreviations can challenge the reader.” To avoid problems, Floersch offers the following advice.


* Avoid a tangle of letters: When plowing through a stack of 20 proposals, reviewers simply can’t keep the acronyms straight from one proposal to the next. Help them out. If the name of your organization is The James Street Youth Recreation and Education Center, cut it down to “the Youth Center” rather than JSYREC.


* Use abbreviations selectively: If you’re submitting a proposal to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, you can safely use HUD as an abbreviation. Some abbreviations are well known within a certain environment. Just be sure the shortcut you use is ubiquitous within the context of your proposal.


* Challenge yourself: Every time you find yourself using an abbreviation, stop. Ask yourself if you can handle the situation in some other way. By constructing sentences carefully, you can often avoid the need for abbreviations.


“Think of acronyms and abbreviations as a form of jargon,” advised Floersch. Avoid them when possible. If you can’t avoid them, make them easily digestible and memorable to an overloaded reader. © Copyright 2016 The Grantsmanship Center.

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