This month’s Changemaker of the Month, Libby Ellis from InCharge, chose the topic of writing grant applications for her coaching session.

The Problem: “I don’t know where to begin when writing applications”

Libby says: “When I start writing an application, it takes me a while to get in the groove! As I’m writing, I wonder to myself ‘Haven’t I written something like this before?’ I’m also quite a verbose person — the ideas fill my head and I don’t know where to begin.”

The most time-consuming part of grant applications tend to be the paragraph responses. Libby and I explored how to streamline her long response answers to save her time and to help her get in the flow more easily.

The Solution

Rather than writing grant applications from scratch, pool together what you’ve written from your previous responses so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Although Libby was already employing this technique, she was doing it in a somewhat ad hoc way. I wanted to help her make it more systematic. Here are the steps we took.


Step 1: Brainstorm typical questions asked in applications

Write a list of all the types of questions that are asked in applications. Use your memory or skim through previous applications.

Libby questions brainstorm


Step 2: Put the ‘typical questions’ into one place

Libby uses Scrivener for another writing project so we decided to create a new Scrivener project for her grant writing. The advantage of Scrivener is you get to organise lots of pieces of writing in one place (rather than separate Word documents) which means that you can easily search, compare and copy-n-paste sections into a new document. Libby created in Scrivener new folders for each ‘typical question’.

In the screenshot below of Scrivener, you can see two examples of questions: “What does InCharge do?” and “What are your org credentials?”

Libby scrivener 2

I recommend Scrivener as a great place to store writing documents. (You can get a free trial of Scrivener here — it’s pretty cool, you get to try it 30 times before you need to buy it. Full information here).

Alternatively, you could create a Word master document. Write each ‘typical question’ as a heading on a new page.


Step 3: Gather 4-5 examples of previous applications

Having a pool of responses from the past makes it easier to write future applications. Choose a handful of applications. Open these documents (it is preferable to have them in digital form, rather than printed). Skim through the application and see if there are any typical questions you want to add to your list above.


Step 4: Copy and paste your responses from previous applications

Under each ‘typical question’ paste examples of your previous responses. There’s no need to edit these for now. Just put the raw data there. It’s simply a gathering exercise.


Step 5: When it’s time to write a new application …

When it’s time for writing a new grant application, find the relevant answers from the past. Copy and paste them, then edit as necessary.

Your next application will probably include a combination of:

  • word-perfect replicas of previous responses
  • minor editing of previous responses
  • major reworking of previous responses

Having examples from the past, however, means that you have a springboard for your ideas, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.



At the end of the session, Libby and I dug into the writing itself. We explored how to structure answers so they make sense to the reader, and how to make the language less abstract and academic, and more appealing through using concrete examples, conversational tone and vivid images.


After the session

Libby said “Using Scrivener to get all my ideas into one place was really helpful. Learning how to structure my writing was great too. I now feel more confident to write grant applications”.


Feel inspired? Take action.

Read Libby’s Changemaker of the Month interview

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