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At the Intersection: Does Theory Guide the Practice of Grant Writing?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020   (2 Comments)
Posted by: Angela White-Jones, Ph.D.
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In academia, we stress the importance of theory in our work.  Theory drives our research.  Theory informs our questions and gives us perspective when analyzing data.  With theory, the researcher has a roadmap for critical study ultimately resulting in (hopefully) fruitful discussion, discourse, and action plans for the topic du jour.

However, there is a push/pull present when the discussion turns to applying this theory to practice.  This is especially so in areas that rely heavily on the experience of the practitioner.  Grant writing, for example, is a practice that is equally “art” and “science,” as data and methodology are included as well as the injection of beautifully written prose and storytelling behind many successful proposals. Writers will sharpen their technique and comfort with a proposal, especially if they have had prior experience in writing for a funder or are a subject matter expert.   So, if grant writing is best honed by experience, then how does theory play a role in developing the practice?

I argue that theory can indeed inform grant writers (and managers) related to application.  There may be some merit to developing a new theoretical component that surrounds grant writing or at least expanding existing theoretical information.  There are a few studies that discuss grant writing as a communications tool, the “how-to process” in the parts and pieces of the proposal itself, and the differences between research proposals and foundation proposals.  But many are process articles, not ones that mold questions for additional research and information.  If we are to expand grant writing both as academic field and a practice, it requires guidance of where we can take the profession and assessment of where it has come from.  This guidance may begin from theoretical approaches.  Together, these ideas can use theory to address human behavior, conscientiousness, and the facilitation of appropriate tasks and processes in grant writing.  These may shape our proposal processes, offer frameworks for training and education, and provide reflections among grant professionals in all sectors on the opportunities and challenges of our work.

The most necessary point, however, is to ensure that developing theory works in concert with practice, not drown it out.  It is up to us as researchers in this field to ensure that we are providing a context for application of our theoretical work.  If theory is supposed to guide and inform, what is the point of utilizing it if practitioners are not using it to guide their writing, inform their technique, or assisting them in adding methodological components that make their proposal unique, and might I say, innovative?

What do you think about theory providing support to grant writers?  Have you found it useful?  Do you think academia should support grant writing with more theoretical knowledge?  Should a theory on grant writing be developed for broader use and promotion of the field?

Author Bio: Angela White-Jones, Ph.D., is the Director of the Master’s in Research Administration program and faculty member in the School of Public Administration at the University in Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. She has worked in grants management for over 15 years directly for and in collaboration with stakeholders in nonprofit, education, private, and government sectors.


Theme: Planning & Prioritizing

GPC Competency: 03. Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development


Perry W. Kaplan says...
Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2020
I am having difficulty with the article's approach, which seems to suggest that a theory of grant writing should address both "how to" write grants and the theory behind the interventions planned for a given proposal. The latter is easy to understand, the former would benefit from a fuller discussion of what the author thinks constitute one or more theories of grant writing. Having read a few recent articles in this journal that seemed to be looking for indicia of effective grant writing, I would love to see some examples (or how the author thinks existing theory impacts grant writers/ writing.
Laura Bonnett Ph.D. says...
Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2020
I think praxis-based grant theory would be valuable and would contribute to greatly to the field. It would also help to better distinguish the grant field from other forms of fundraising. Would love to know more about existing theory! Laura Bonnett YellowTree Grant Writing Ottawa, Ontario, Canada