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According to Whom

By a show of hands, who has ever had the professional opportunity to serve on a grant review committee? Or edited a piece written by a colleague? And when in either of those roles have you ever paused, mid need statement, and uttered quietly, According to whom?

I have lost count of how many times I have written or voiced the question. My normal response when serving as a reviewer for a grantmaker is not to put the proposal down right away, but to circle the sentence on my hard copy or highlight the section in the pdf version and put a question mark with the phrase, “According to whom?” If other elements of the proposal are also weak, my overall score and recommendation will reflect that with a lower score or a suggestion. If the other elements of the proposal are strong, my overall score and recommendation will not suffer due to only one missed citation opportunity.
Grant professionals, by nature of our work, are constantly reviewing new data about the organization(s) we work with. Whether it is new Census data, new focus group data, or newly published studies, there are often many new or updated sources for us to consider using to strengthen each need statement we craft. However, despite our best intentions we sometimes let our need statement drift into a loose narrative style and do not consistently cite our sources for each point that we make.
Can a proposal be funded if the data used in the need statement is not properly cited, whether as footnotes or as in-text citation? Absolutely. However, it makes the narrative statement harder for the reviewer to absorb and feel confident about as they consider the proposed program design. Ultimately it decreases the proposals competitiveness when compared to others.
To avoid being less competitive than desired, and to prevent one of your future reviewers from  uttering “According to whom?” ask yourself the following before inserting data into your need statement:

  • Do I know the source for this data?
  • Is this proposal most appropriate for a footnote or for an in-text citation?
  • Is the source that I plan to cite credible?
  • Is the source that I plan to cite the most recent data available for this information?
  • For the type of source that I am using, have I documented the right information to follow the APA Style Guide and ensure my reviewer can find the information themselves?
Now let's be data citation geeks together and admit which of us has the APA Style Guide as one of our Bookmark Bar favorites?
When not working on grants for clients of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC, Diane H. Leonard, GPC can be found in the 1000 Islands, out for a run, or drinking a strong cup of coffee.


By: Sue Green
On: 01/30/2018 15:11:07
I usually include both the journal citation and the website. Do others tend to include URLs?
By: Tiva Quinn
On: 01/30/2018 15:55:03
With web-based textboxes and tight word or character limits, I find citing sources is increasingly difficult no matter how much I might agree with you - let alone giving a full, proper citation.
By: Kendra
On: 01/31/2018 01:15:36
This is a great article and I concur. However, as a writer and trained researcher, I thought that it "assumed" (safely) that when citing any type of data or quotes that you are supposed cite and even have attached to a completed proposal a cited works or reference page?? I mean I literally thought it's expected. Well, you learn something NEW everyday and good to know that what I've been doing has just been confirmed. Now on to getting funded! Excellent submission Diane.
By: Kimberly Massey
On: 01/31/2018 09:36:13
Diane, Thanks for this article. Citations are important to me, and though I am sure I occasionally miss an opportunity, I try to include them where possible, either in the text or as a footnote, like you mention. However, I have found this harder and harder to do, as online applications allow for shorter answers. I have recently encountered several forms in which the responses are allowed only 250 characters per response. That's characters... Including spaces. With space at such a premium, do you have any thoughts on how to include your citation, or is it acceptable to include a blanket "citations on request."?
By: Tamara
On: 02/02/2018 18:27:04
Perfect timing on this topic, as I'm going through reapplication for federal pass-through funds and trying to add citations for previously collected information. I always cite the source of stats and other research, but like others find it more difficult when completing online applications. My solution is to include info that will allow a grant reviewer to find that information without including a full citation. That means: author, title, publication, date. There have been times I've had to reduce the number of sources included so that I could fit the key information and citation into a character-limited space.
By: Diane H Leonard
On: 02/03/2018 08:07:32
Great feedback everyone! While in some proposal settings, you are correct - you might assume that "everyone" knows to submit footnote citations (which may include the website link to a piece), it isn't always clear for those new to the field or type of proposal. And then as Tiva and Kimberly pointed out, in character counted situations our hands are so tied. This is the most common place where, when serving as a grant reviewer, I find myself asking the "According to whom?" question. In online applications, the narrative citation is key. Something as simple as "According to xx" lets the reviewer know you have a formal source backing up your text. And if you have a few characters left, the suggestion to say something "Formal citations available." is a good idea as well.

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