Can the who, what, where, and how of your proposed program be understood in the first paragragh of your abstract?
Understanding the function of an abstract helps you better understand this question. Many times, the function of an abstract is to make it easy on the decision-makers so they don’t have to go back and re-read your entire proposal to remind themselves what your program is about.
Hopefully you will be fortunate enough to have your grant make it to the final decision process where, for example, the grant makers have narrowed it down to 20 finalists — but only have 12 grants to allot. It’s at this point where: the pros and cons of each program are weighed, similarities are and differences are categorized, geographic location is considered, target population is pinpointed, cost per client is compared, experience and track record of the lead agency is considered. The role of the abstract in this type of meeting is for those decision-makers to have all those facts easily retrievable on one page, at their fingertips.
If at this point your abstract is not clear enough, chances are you lose. These reader/scorers don’t have the time and patience to skim through the reams of facts and figures of your proposal. And c’mon, common sense tells you that a person doling out grant awards is going to lose their faith in you. They’ll think “…the applicant wants us to trust them with hundreds of thousands of dollars and they can’t even get their act together enough to write a friggin’ simple one-page abstract?!
With this in mind, a reader should be able to read the first paragraph and understand:
WHO is the lead agency and the target population served.
WHAT the proposed activities and the desired changes (through-line) are.
WHERE (i.e., community, district, neighborhood) wthe services will be offered and where within that community the services will be offered (i.e., schools, clinics, homes).
Assume that the abstract will be the only part of the proposal — other than the budget — that is carefully reviewed before the decision is made to consider the project further. If that won’t convince you to get every important fact on the first page than nothing will.
Of course, you can only have a good abstract if you have a good program design. Designing a winning grant program is what my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE, is all about (www.SandyPointInk.com).
According to one of the forefathers of modern acting, Russian actor and director Constanin Stanislavski, an actor/actress in order to develop continuity in a part needs to find the super objective — or the through line — of a character. That is, what motivates or drives the character during the course of a play? If a tangible goal can be established that the character strives for, than that becomes the single overriding action that all that character’s individual actions serve. Every decision that character makes, and every action the character takes, becomes a through line to achieving the super objective.
For example, a character’s quest in a sports story might be to prove to others that he is not a bum, that he has the grit and guts it takes to be a champion. The through line to every scene is about him overcoming the obstacles and conflict to prove that to himself and others.
Your program and proposal needs a Through Line as well. That is, the super objective your organization wants to achieve. A single overriding quest that every activity, every staff hired, every assessment, every partner, serves.
Let’s use a literacy program as an example. You may introduce the phrase “…empowering the parent/s to become their child’s second teacher…” Well then, that super objective becomes the reason for all activities within that program. Another Through Line might be, “1,000 children, 10,000 books…” meaning that each child and their parents will read 10 books over the course of a year. Then every activity within the program will help achieve the 1/10,000 goal.
Don’t make the reader/scorer guess what your Through Line is. Spell it out for them as soon as possible in the abstract. Having this overall glimpse of where you intend to go with the program will help the reader/scorer fit all the various pieces of your program into place. This Through Line — like those examples above — should be first introduced in the abstract and then resonate throughout your proposal.
More about this can be found in my new book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE (www.SandyPointInk.com)