Words to avoid when drafting a grant proposal

  • October 20, 2022

Clients are quick to ask us what we think they should say in a grant proposal. Surprisingly, very few ever ask our advice on what they should NOT say in a grant proposal. There are several words, phrases, or types of language that can detract from an applicant’s overall credibility. We caution our clients never to use these words or phrases in their proposals. The following list represents some, but not all, of the common mistakes founders, make when writing a grant and why you should avoid them.


One category of words to avoid includes industry jargon. Jargon is defined as any specialized language used by a particular profession or group. Jargon should not be used in a grant proposal as it could be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or not understood at all. If any acronyms are used they should be spelled out at their first use. It is important to remember that reviewers will be randomly selected and may not be industry experts in every case. Using industry jargon, in general, creates a divide and disconnect between the speaker or writer and the audience. It can also make the speaker or writer appear unrelatable or unapproachable. Industry-only specialized language and acronyms are words to avoid when creating a proposal.

Empty Words

Additional words to avoid when creating a grant proposal include empty words or marketing speak. This is especially true in any sort of research and development grant. Many people, especially those from a marketing background, have the tendency to use empty words to try to describe the value proposition of a product. These words are generally devoid of direct meaning and often hyperbolic. Think words like “highest quality, top-rated, synergistic, one-stop-shop, conveniently located, easy to use, or cutting edge“. While you are, in a sense, trying to “sell” your idea to the reviewers, the way to do it is not with contrived, gimmicky, marketing speak, but rather by presenting the intellectual merit of your idea in a clear, concise way. As a general rule, avoid using any words you think you might hear on a late-night “as seen on tv” ad.

Avoid buzzwords

Every few years a slew of buzzwords enters the mainstream and we become inundated with their use in every industry. Everyone has a “dynamic” idea and wants to be a “game-changer” these days by marketing their new technology. These words are meant to be attention-grabbing and catchy and show the speaker or writer is modern and aware of current industry culture, but what it really does is make the writer sound insincere. These buzzwords should be avoided in your proposal and replaced with descriptions of actual features of your solution and how it surpasses the current industry standard.

Extraneous words to avoid

Additional words to avoid include words that add to your overall word count without adding any content. Words like “very, extremely, really, just, furthermore, firstly, definitely, certainly, rather, quite, somewhat, somehow, probably, actually, basically, virtually, and in conclusion” do not add any meaning or context to your text. They are empty fillers that use valuable word count. All grants have page limitations. If you find yourself over the limit one way to trim without losing valuable content is to search for these unnecessary words and delete them.

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We assist our clients in locating, applying for, and evaluating the outcomes of non-dilutive grant funding. We believe non-dilutive funding is a crucial tool for mitigating investment risks, and we are dedicated to guiding our clients through the entire process—from identifying the most suitable opportunities to submitting and managing grant applications.