Scrivener for Grant Writing

The Problem

I write a lot of grants.  These range from short, 3-page summaries to larger TRiO grants (as many as 65 pages).  Historically, I used Microsoft Word to write these, but have always spend WAY more time formatting than actual writing.  Most recently, I have used Scrivener to write my grants, and have been especially pleased with the results.  I spent almost all of my time writing, and very little on formatting.

Word processing programs like Microsoft Word and iWork’s Pages have their place in the writing world - but the WYSIWYG format requires a great deal of attention throughout the writing process.  When one is writing a grant (and other kinds of academic writing as well), ideas need to be presented logically and clearly.  I have often found that the formatting distracts the writer from attending to the writing.

This became especially clear to me when I was tutoring a student in one of my classes.  She was attempting to fix her paper with my support - but to be honest, she spent more time fixing the formatting and “decor” of the document than she did on the actual content.  I asked her to close her computer, and we went to pen and paper - where she was much better able to focus upon her writing.

At the time, I was working on a grant myself.  I returned to my computer to resume my writing, and spent waaaay too much time trying to fix a formatting problem when it hit me - I was having the very same problem that my student had.

The Solution

I stumbled upon Scrivener after I had already looked into Markdown-type writing apps.  I have used other apps like Ulysses to write grants, but I’ve had difficulty in learning how to create CSS files that give me the output I was looking for.  Scrivener has become the place for me to do grant writing (it looks like it is going to be the place to do my academic writing as well, but the jury remains out at this point).

A tool like Scrivener will provide the author with kind of structure that can be exported when it’s time to compile a document.  Consider the screenshot below - all of the sections of this grant are outlined in Scrivener’s organizational structure - and all of these elements can be compiled when the writing is complete.

Additionally, Scrivener took first place for me as a grant-writing application because it provides the ability to track the progress of individual sections.  It always seems that I have some sections complete, while others need to be modified or improved.  The tracking section (see the far right column labeled "Status" on the image below) provides the author with a way to track the completion of each section.  When my drafts have been completed, and reviewed by an outside reader, and re-edited, I mark them “Done.”  When each section is finally “Done,” I’ll export the file using Scrivener’s compiler tool.

Scrivener allows the writer absolute control over the output of the product.  To be honest, this takes some time to learn - but I have discovered that it take SIGNIFICANTLY less time to learn than it does to obsessively cull through an 65-page grant application to ensure that the typeface and margins for each section are consistent.  Plus, if the author wants to modify the way a section looks in the exported file, one only needs to make the change in the compiler tool.  I have found this especially valuable, for example, when my application narratives go a little long, and I need to edit the way titles are displayed to make up some space.

As I mentioned above, I have recently started using Scrivener for academic writing.  I need to see whether it will continue to serve my needs in that context, but so far, it seems to handle the work very well.

Tips and Tricks

  • Support: I would recommend watching videos on youtube to learn to use Scrivener.  I played with it for months before getting some additional help, and discovered that there were solutions that would have saved me a great deal of time.
  • Use RFP as Organization: If you are writing a grant, I recommend organizing your folders and text files into the arrangement of the RFP.  This allows an author to efficiently track what each section needs to complete the application.
  • Import Text: For even less distraction, one could use nValt or some other .txt editor, and import the text into Scrivener.  I have found that this is not often helpful for grant-writing, as authors often need to be able to draw charts and tables as well.
  • Use Word when it Works: Speaking of tables, I actually export my files to MSWord or Pages, and then edit the tables to get the shading I want on them.  There may be a way to do that in Scrivener, but I haven’t learned it if there is.  
Posted on March 13, 2015 and filed under General, Writing.