Copy Paste Grants?

Let’s be honest. Grant writing takes a lot of time – something you’re not drowning in, I know.

So I’m often asked if there are ways to reduce the amount of time spent writing grant application after grant application. My answer is yes. There are a number of ways you can make grant writing more efficient.

One popular method among relatively new grant writers is to produce ‘canned’ material that you could, in theory, ‘copy-paste’ from one application to another.

Is it a viable strategy?

Yes – and no. In short, you can copy-paste, but there’ll be limits to what you can do, and you need to balance your perceived time-saving against the ‘costs’ to the quality of the application that has inherited recycled text.

Let me explain what I mean, so at least you’ll be an informed copy-paster…

1. Grant applications are made up of questions. And your job is to answer those questions. That sounds easier than it actually is; few people do it well. Typically, questions ask you to demonstrate x or y. The word ‘demonstrate’ is a short-hand for ‘show us the evidence’ or ‘make a case’. So in every question, you need to think of yourself as a barrister, making a case that you have, for instance, demonstrated research leadership by presenting the evidence of that. So – questions need a crafted ‘case’, not a canned response. Be prepared for copy-paste material to then take time – yes, time – to craft, cull, delete, move around etc… Sometimes it’s just easier starting with new words!

2. Grant applications may ‘look the same’, but if you inspect them more closely and widely, there’s variation.

One variation will be in the funding bodies’ purpose, and the objectives they have of the grant schemes they administer. Some funding bodies are intent on capacity-building, others on collaboration and cross-disciplinarity. Some are issued by small Trusts and Foundations that may be keen on the promotion and awareness-raising of a discrete cultural or societal asset, others issued by government agencies, which have broader government policies and the ‘national interest’ as core objectives.

These different concerns are obvious if you do your homework about the organisation and funding scheme. But another way you can glean their different slants is via the prism of – you guessed it – the application questions. And this brings me to my next point.

3. You’re answering a question. Questions always vary in emphasis. And the mix of questions, and their sequence, will also differ.

The flipside of this – from a writer’s perspective – is that you need to ‘pace’ the delivery of evidence in your responses so you don’t give the assessors all your evidence, to all the things you’ve done or could say about yourself or your work, in Question 1. Similarly, if the funding agency cares only about collaborative grants, but your answers provide no evidence of collaboration, but instead make a case based on the text you copied from the last grant application, you can quickly see how the quality of your application will diminish.

And if there’s anything that stands out in a grant application, it’s a) responses that don’t answer the question or somehow seem dull, ill-considered or pre-generated, and b) repetitive text, especially the ‘word for word’ repetition of sentences between different parts of the application.

Now, you might be thinking, ‘but you told us at the start of this post that we can copy-paste, but everything you’ve said since suggests we shouldn’t’.

True. You can. But personally, I wouldn’t – due to said risk of producing a shoddy application.
So what can you do?

  1. Go ahead and have your ‘core ingredients’, stored and kept up-to-date somewhere on your computer. By core ingredients I mean the things that feature in your CV, like your publications, your post as Editor or co-Editor of some journal, your highly cited research publication or influential policy paper. Keeping this data in one spot and up to date is a good strategy anyway, as grant writers often need to submit their most current track record/CV with an application. So that’s one place you can save time (by having it kept up to date as you go).
  2. Go ahead and have a bio that captures your career narrative, one which will remain (generally) stable. This is also a statement you can tweak in terms of emphasis, depending on the emphasis or objectives of the scheme you’re applying for.
  3. Redirect your attention to the other places in the grant writing process that gobble up time. By other places I mean your systems for:

a) identifying appropriate funding sources (people often waste time looking at grants they’re not ready for or are a distraction to their own research agenda, simply because someone mentioned it to them, and typically find out about those sources at the last minute because they have no planning strategy in mind);

b) selecting appropriate grants to apply for (people often waste time applying for schemes that are neither appropriate to their needs nor for which they are eligible);

c) writing all parts of the application efficiently (time is often wasted here for several reasons, such as not enlisting the institutional support available for different sections of an application, like budgets, or not really being clear on the proposal idea itself, so drafting and redrafting ‘until’).


If you can relate to any of the above areas where you could be saving writing time, I’d encourage you to consider joining us in PhD2Postdoc or Granted. The strategies, tips and systems you’ll learn in these courses will save you a lot of time. And after all, isn’t that what time-poor academics are after?

Love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Hit reply and share your experience. Have you found ways to save time in writing a grant application?

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