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CLEAR WRITING, SUCCESSFUL PROPOSALS February 8, 2011 Dr. Daniel Reardon The Missouri S&T Writing Center PowerPoint Presentation
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CLEAR WRITING, SUCCESSFUL PROPOSALS February 8, 2011 Dr. Daniel Reardon The Missouri S&T Writing Center. Why Proposals Fail…. A Good Proposal

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slide1

CLEAR WRITING,

SUCCESSFUL PROPOSALS

February 8, 2011

Dr. Daniel Reardon

The Missouri S&T

Writing Center

slide3

A Good Proposal

A good proposal is a good idea, well expressed, with a clear indication of methods for pursuing the idea, evaluating the findings, and making them known to all who need to know.

Source: NSF Regional Conference, Baton Rouge, LA, 2000

slide4

Reasons for Approving or Funding a Proposal

  • New and original ideas
  • Succinct, focused project plan
  • Clear knowledge of subject area or published, relevant work
  • Experience in essential methodology
  • Certainty concerning future direction
  • Acceptable scientific rationale
  • Realistic amount of work
  • Sufficient detail
  • Critical approach
  • Well-written document
slide5

Common Problems and Solutions

Problem: Poor writing.

Solution: Revise, get help. (See our Graduate Technical Editor at the Writing Center, 113 Campus Support Facility)

Problem: Insufficient information, experimental details, or preliminary data.

Solution: Assess what’s missing; add it to the research plan.

Problem: Significance of project not convincingly stated.

Solution: Improve that section; demonstrate importance to the organization’s mission.

Problem: Insufficient discussion of obstacles and alternative approaches.

Solution: Write what you’ll do if you get negative results or if an approach doesn’t pan out.

Source: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/grants/write/write_z7.htm

slide6

How to Overcome Common Pitfalls

  • Carefully outline your proposal in response to course assignment (or RFP in the working world).
  • Seek outside readers in your field (and among your peers) to look at the content of your project.
  • Find and read successful models of proposals.
  • Seek assistance at the Writing Center (from me, specifically) regarding writing-related issues.
  • Ask questions if you have them.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to re-read and revise your proposal.
now let s examine your pre proposals for cs 447
Now Let’s Examine your Pre-Proposals for CS 447
  • And review the requirements
  • for each section
slide8

Section A: Project Summary

  • Subsection A.1: Your name and degree program(s) (e.g., Cathy Jones, BS in Computer Science with minor in Biology)
  • Subsection A.2: Project title: as descriptive and specific as possible while being short and peppy
  • Subsection A.3: Description: Concise description of your research proposal. [This describes at a very high level what you propose to do.]
slide9

Subsection A.4: Intellectual Merit: How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts? [This describes the scientific contributions of your research.]

  • Subsection A.5: Societal Benefit: What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society? [This provides the general motivation for your research.]
section b project narrative
Section B: Project Narrative
  • Subsection B.1: Introduction: state and motivate scientific questions you propose to investigate
  • Subsection B.2: Related work: summarize the published research related to what you are going to propose and explain why it's deficient and how your proposed research will address those deficiencies
  • Subsection B.3: Proposed research: describe your proposed approach to answering the scientific questions you stated in the introduction
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Subsection B.4: Qualifications & Resources: briefly explain why you are qualified to conduct the proposed research and make the case that the resources at your disposal are sufficient to carry out the research as envisioned

  • Subsection B.5: Tentative work plan: present a task list and tentative schedule for completing those tasks; also indicate deliverables on schedule; indicate which tasks, if any, have a non-negligible chance of failure and what alternative approach you could attempt in case of failure
section c references
Section C: References
  • List here all the references you cite in your proposal.
  • I’ve also brought copies of the IEEE documentation style guidelines
  • for your convenience.
proofreading for clarity and variety
Proofreading for Clarity and Variety
  • Highlight or circle every use of these verbs:
  • Am
  • Is
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
slide14

Next, Highlight or Circle every sentence

  • that begins with:
  • This
  • There
  • Do you notice a pattern?
  • Have you carefully chosen each word, or written your document too quickly?
slide15

How long are your sentences?

  • Do you vary your sentence lengths to create rhythm in your language use?
  • Or are your sentences pretty much all the same length?
  • Do you vary your use of punctuation?
  • Or use only commas?
slide16

Do You Recognize These Sentences?

Learning classifier systems (LCS) are an effective type of reinforcement learning that evaluates rules from a ruleset to choose the predicted best action in response to the current state of its environment.

Results have been published that show that various GAs can be adapted to perform this task.

The new clock-cycle-addicted economy requires high-powered computational firepower, and it’s citizens demand the right to bear cloud computing devices.

This is due to a lack of education related to AI, and the requirement to be a good programmer to create an AI for your specific problem.

slide17

Do You Recognize These Sentences?

An unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance drone on a mission to record a series of targets within an enemy base would face a real-world example of DVTSP in planning the optimum path to each of the targets that minimizes flight time in order to conserve fuel and provide less opportunity to be shot down.

Most internet users have something to gripe about when it comes to the way websites are laid out.

One of the most irritating and significant causes of this traffic is time spent at traffic lights.

And now for a strong, clear, concise sentence (or two):

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Real-time simulators are in widespread use as both military and workforce training applications, and, as the need for more complicated simulation environments grows, so does the need for a powerful artificial intelligence behind the scenes. But regular artificial intelligence, acting only by design, quickly becomes predictable, making the simulator worthless.

This Proposal is already well on its way to acceptance!

slide19

Good writing style is a CHOICE,

not an accident.

Sentence-level style: Choosing the right words and crafting sentences that are easy to read and understand.

Paragraph-level style: Weaving sentences together smoothly to emphasize your main points and satisfy your readers’ expectations.

Document-level style: Setting an appropriate overall tone and appealing to your readers’ values.

slide20

Style is what makes the content of your proposal easy (or hard) to read and understand.

  • Style is NOT merely embellishment or ornamentation. It is not a matter of sprinkling adjectives or metaphors or anything unnecessary throughout your writing. Style is not “fluff.”
  • Developing a good writing style is fundamental if you want to persuade your readers to approve your proposal.
  • A clear, solid, appropriate writing style illustrates your clear thinking, your emphasis on quality, your attention to detail, your respect for the readers’ needs, and your willingness to work within the organization’s parameters.
slide21

Writing Clear Sentences

Consider these three variations of the same sentence:

SubjectVerbPredicate

The Institute provides the government with accurate crime statistics.

The government is provided with accurate crime statistics by the Institute.

Crime statistics are provided to the government by the Institute.

slide22

8 GUIDELINES FOR WRITING

CLEARER SENTENCES:

  • The subject should be what the sentence is really about.
  • Make the “doer” the subject.
  • State the action in the verb.
  • Put the subject early in the sentence.
  • Reduce nominalizations.
  • Avoid excessive prepositional phrases.
  • Eliminate redundancy.
  • Make sentences “breathing length.”
slide23

Guideline 1:

The subject should be what the sentence

is actually about.

Very often, a weak writing style makes it difficult for readers to identify the subject of the sentence.

For example, what is the subject of the following sentence?

Ten months after the Hartford Project began in which a team of our experts conducted close observations of management actions, our final conclusion is that the scarcity of monetary funds is at the basis of the inability of Hartford Industries to appropriate resources to essential projects that have the greatest need.

slide24

Guideline 2: Make the “doer” the subject.

Guideline 3: State the action in the verb.

Readers tend to focus on who or what is doing something in the sentence.

Which sentence is easier to read and understand?

a. On Saturday morning, the paperwork was completed in a timely fashion by Jim.

b. On Saturday morning, Jim completed the paperwork in a timely fashion.

slide25

Which sentence is easiest to read and understand?

a. The detective investigated the loss of the payroll.

b. The detective conducted an investigation into the loss of the payroll.

c. The detective is the person who is conducting an investigation of the loss of the payroll.

slide26

Guideline 4: Put the subject early in the sentence.

Which sentence is easier to read and understand?

a. If deciduous and evergreen trees experience yet another year of drought like the one observed in 1997, the entire Sandia Mountain ecosystem will be heavily damaged.

b. The Sandia Mountain ecosystem will be heavily damaged if deciduous and evergreen trees experience yet another year of drought like the one observed in 1997.

slide27

Guideline 5: Reduce nominalizations.

Nominalizations are verbs and adjectives that have been turned into nouns. Very often, nominalizations can make your sentences seem awkward and “clunky.”

Consider this pair of sentences:

a. Management has an expectation that the project will meet the deadline.

b. Management expects the project to meet the deadline.

slide28

Consider this pair of sentences:

  • Our discussion about the matter allowed us to make a decision on the acquisition of a new x-ray machine.
  • b. We discussed the matter and decided to acquire the new x-ray machine.
slide29

Guideline 6: Avoid excessive prepositional phrases.

Consider these sentences:

a. The decline in the numberof businesses owned by localsin the townof Artesia is a demonstration of the increasing hardship facedin rural communitiesin the southwest. (8 prepositional phrases)

b. Artesia’s declining number of locally owned businesses demonstrates the increasing hardship faced by southwestern rural communities. (2 prepositional phrases)

slide30

Guideline 7: Eliminate redundancy.

Redundant language uses two or more words to do the work of one. Eliminate redundancies so your reader doesn’t need to work twice as hard to understand one basic idea.

Examples:

Unruly mob, free gift, past history, previous experience.

We should collaborate together as a team.

We made important, significant changes.

slide31

Guideline 8: Make sentences “breathing length.”

By the end of an especially long sentence, readers are more concerned with getting through it than with actually deciphering it.

If a written sentence seems longer than “one breath,” consider shortening it or dividing it into two complete sentences. If you have a series of particularly short sentences, consider combining them to reach a more comfortable “breathing length.”

slide32

A Simple Method for Writing Clearer Sentences

  • 1. Identify who or what the sentence is really about
  • Turn that who or what into the subject, and them move that subject to an early place in the sentence.
  • Identify what the subject is doing, and move that action into the verb slot.
  • Eliminate prepositional phrases, where appropriate, by turning them into adjectives.
  • Eliminate unnecessary nominalizations and redundancies.
  • 6. Shorten, lengthen, combine, or divide sentences to make them “breathing length.”
slide33

Here’s our original sentence:

Ten months after the Hartford Project began in which a team of our experts conducted close observations of management actions, our final conclusion is that the scarcity of monetary funds is at the basis of the inability of Hartford Industries to appropriate resources to essential projects that have the greatest need.

Here’s a revision using the 8 guidelines to clearer writing:

After completing the ten-month Hartford Project, our experts concluded that the Hartford Industries’ budget shortfalls have limited support for priority projects.

slide34

The Given/New Method

Readers will always try to fit new information into what they already know.

Every sentence (or nearly every sentence) should contain something the readers already know (the given) and something the readers don’t yet know (the new).

slide35

Consider these sentences:

  • Santa Fe is a beautiful place with surprises around every corner. Some artists choose to strike off into the mountains to paint, while others enjoy working in local studios.
  • b. Santa Fe offers many beautiful places for artists to work, with surprises around every corner. Some artists choose to strike off into the mountains to paint, while others enjoy working in local studios.
slide36

The Given/New Method

Sometimes, the previous sentence does not offer a suitable subject for the sentence that follows it. In these cases, transitional phrases can help the writer to provide some given information at the beginning of a sentence.

This public relations effort will strengthen Gentec’s relationship with the leaders of the community. With this new relationship in place, the details of the project can be negotiated with terms that are fair to both parties.

slide37

Writing Clear Paragraphs

The Elements of a Paragraph:

Transition sentence

Topic sentence

Support sentences

Point sentences

slide38

Transition sentence:

A transition sentence allows you to create a smooth bridge from the previous paragraph to the present paragraph. Transition sentences are typically used when the new paragraph handles a significantly different topic than the previous paragraph. Some paragraphs do not require a transition sentence.

Example: “With these facts in mind, let us consider the current opportunity.” The facts mentioned in this sentence were explained in the previous paragraph. By referring back to the previous paragraph, this transition sentence provides a bridge to the information in the new paragraph.

slide39

Topic sentence:

  • The topic sentence is the claim or statement that the rest of the paragraph is going to prove or support. Often, topic sentences appear as the first or second sentence of each paragraph. Why?
  • The topic sentence sets a goal for the paragraph to reach by telling readers the claim you are trying to prove. If the topic sentence appears at the end, readers are forced to rethink all the details in the paragraph now that they know what the paragraph was trying to prove. This can be both difficult and annoying.
  • The first sentence is the most important sentence in the paragraph. Readers who are scanning your document quickly will tend to concentrate on the beginning of each paragraph. If the topic sentence is buried in the middle or at the end of a paragraph, some of these readers will very likely miss it.
slide40

Support sentences:

Support sentences will include the bulk of your information, and are intended to provide evidence for the claim made in the topic sentence.

  • Support sentences include:
  • Logical reasoning
  • if/then, cause/effect, better/worse, greater/lesser arguments
  • Examples and illustrations
  • Facts
  • Data
  • Definitions
  • Descriptions
slide41

Point sentences:

Point sentences usually come at the end of a paragraph. They restate the topic sentence using different words. Point sentences are especially useful in longer paragraphs, when readers may not remember the original goal of the paragraph.

Point sentences are optional, and should be used only sparingly. Too many point sentences will make your writing seem repetitive and even condescending.

Point sentences often start with transitional signals such as therefore, consequently, in sum, etc.

slide42

How can we accomplish these five goals? (transition) Universities need to study their core mission to determine whether distance education is a viable alternative to the traditional classroom. (topic sentence) If universities can maintain their current standards while moving their courses online, then distance education may provide a new medium through which nontraditional students can take classes and perhaps earn a degree. (support) Utah State, for example, reports that students enrolled in their online courses have met or exceeded the expectations of their professors. (support) On the other hand, if standards cannot be maintained, then universities may find themselves returning to the traditional on-campus model of education. (support) In the end, the ability to meet a university’s core mission is the litmus test to measure whether distance education will work. (point sentence)

slide43

Universities need to study their core mission to determine whether distance education is a viable alternative to the traditional classroom. (topic sentence) If universities can maintain their current standards while moving their courses online, then distance education may provide a new medium through which nontraditional students can take classes and perhaps earn a degree. (support) Utah State, for example, reports that students enrolled in their online courses have met or exceeded the expectations of their professors. (support) On the other hand, if standards cannot be maintained, then universities may find themselves returning to the traditional on-campus model of education. (support)

slide44

Aligning Sentence Subjects in a Paragraph

The lack of technical knowledge about the electronic components in automobiles often leads car owners to be suspicious about the honesty of car mechanics. Although they might be fairly knowledgeable about the mechanical workings of their automobiles, car owners rarely understand the nature and scope of the electronic repairs needed in modern automobiles. For instance, the function and importance of a transmission in a car is generally well known to all car owners. However, the wire harnesses and printed circuit boards that regulate the fuel consumption and performance of their car are rarely familiar. Repairs for these electronic components can often run over $400—a large amount for a customer who cannot even visualize what a wire harness or printed circuit board looks like. In contrast, a $400 charge for the transmission on the family car, though distressing, is more readily understood and accepted.

slide45

Revision 1. Due to their lack of knowledge about electronics, some car owners are skeptical about the honesty of car mechanics when repairs involve electrical components. Most customers are acquainted with the mechanical features of their automobiles, but they rarely understand the nature and scope of the electronics in their cars. For example, many people recognize the function and importance of an automobile transmission; however, the average driver knows very little about the wire harnesses and printed circuit boards that regulate a car’s fuel consumption and performance. So, for many customers, a $400 repair for these electronic components seems like a large amount, especially when they cannot even visualize what a wire harness or printed circuit board looks like. In contrast, most car owners think that a $400 charge to fix the transmission on the family car, although distressing, is more acceptable.

slide46

Revision 2. Repairs to electronic components often lead car owners, who lack knowledge about electronics, to doubt the honesty of car mechanics. The nature and scope of these repairs are usually beyond the understanding of most non-mechanics, unlike typical mechanical repairs with which car owners are more familiar. For instance, the importance of fixing the transmission in a car is readily apparent to most car owners. But adjustments to wire harnesses and printed circuit boards are mysterious to most customers, even though these electronic components are crucial to regulate the car’s fuel consumption and performance. So, a repair to these electronic components, which can easily cost $400 or more, seems excessive. In contrast, a $400 replacement of the family car’s transmission, though distressing, is more readily accepted.

slide47

What is Passive Voice?

Passive voice is a grammatical construction in which the object of an action becomes the subject of a sentence.

form of "to be" + past participle* = passive voice

Examples:

Tree core analysis can be conducted to delineate chlorinated ethylene groundwater plumes.

Concentrations of contaminants in affected tissues were analyzed.

* Grammar Review: the past participle is a verb form often, but not always, ending in “-ed.” Some exceptions to the “-ed” rule are words like “paid” and “driven.”

slide48

When is it appropriate to use passive voice?

a. The door was closed to ensure privacy. (passive)

b. Frank Roberts closed the door to ensure privacy. (active)

  • Passive sentences are appropriate when:
  • The readers do not need to know who or what is doing something in the sentence.
  • The subject of the sentence is what the sentence is really about.
slide49

How to Maintain Objectivity in your Writing

When possible, use active constructions that include such verbs as supported, indicated, suggested, corresponded, challenged, yielded, demonstrated, or showed.

Instead of: A number of results are indicated by these data.

Try: These data indicate a number of results.

or Further analysis showed/suggested/yielded…

slide50

Editing for Clear and Professional Language:

Ten Hints

  • Know your audience.
  • Write complete sentences.
  • Replace the broad “this” as a subject.
    • Instead of: The tool is at a default, guarded position both before and after the milling process. This allows the cutting to be done only at the time the operator chooses.
    • Try: The tool is at a default, guarded position both before and after the milling process. This default position allows the cutting to be done only at the time the operator chooses.
slide51

Editing for Clear and Professional Language:

Ten Hints

  • Avoid piled-up modifiers.
  • Instead of: A slope stability and piping failure analysis
  • Try: An analysis of slope stability and piping failure
  • Trim down phrases to make your prose more readable and concise. Don’t use more words than you absolutely need.
  • In order to = to Serves to illustrate = illustrates
  • For the purpose of = to In the event that = if
  • At this point in time = now Because of the fact that = because
  • Is in compliance with = complies with Prior to = before
  • Has responsibility for testing = tests Subsequent to = after
  • At a temperature of 298K = at 298K Utilizes = uses
slide52

Editing for Clear and Professional Language:

Ten Hints

  • Use the past tense when reporting specific actions, observations, and procedures that took place in the past. Use the present tense to describe things that are always or generally true.
  • past: After construction and modification, the mower assembly was field tested at the fruit orchard in Illinois.
  • present: The mower is capable of cutting heavy grass up to one foot high.
  • past and present: Aluminum was used for the prototype because it is easily available and machinable.
slide53

Editing for Clear and Professional Language:

Ten Hints

  • Build coherent paragraphs by aligning your subjects.
  • Never start a sentence with a numeral or an abbreviation; either write out the words or rearrange your sentence.
  • Find at least one person—ideally more than one person—to read your document and offer you helpful feedback before you submit it.
  • Check and re-check your spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Realize the limits of spell-checker and grammar-checker software.
slide54

This presentation was based in part on the information found in Writing Proposals: Rhetoric for Managing Change by Richard Johnson-Sheehan (Allyn & Bacon, 2002).

Additional information about proposal writing and all aspects of technical writing and communication can be found at the S&T Writing Center, 113 Campus Support Facility.