Does Spelling Count?

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Here you are, poised and ready to submit a compelling proposal to a very likely foundation prospect. You’ve written a solid narrative, you’ve double-checked the budget and you’ve attached all required documents. Just before you send it—did anybody check your spelling?


There are few things likelier to derail a good proposal—or easier to fix—than spelling errors, bad grammar, awkward punctuation, word counts over the limit. Words need to be spelled the right way because unhappily, we all find a mistake in someone else’s writing better than we spot them in our own.


Is it “fair” to be penalized for misspelling or grammar or other glitches in your proposal? We’d rather be evaluated on the quality of our ideas, the strengths of our organization. We try to put all of that on display in our proposals, but when a reader hits a speed bump like a misspelling, it can throw into question all the claims we make, all the good we say we’re ready to do.”


It’s not a good idea to assume that “they” will get what you meant when you misspell a word. Instead, they will be distracted by the error and begin wondering what else is wrong with the proposal, the project, the organization.


What to do about this hazard? First, it’s a good idea to use one of the many spell checkers that are out there. When it’s time to write the final version, run it through spell-check to be sure you haven’t made a mistake. There are similar checkers for grammar and some of them do both functions.


There’s often a temptation to choose a tiny type size and font so you can cram a few more lines into a page. Resist the temptation, the reader might go snow blind in the blizzard of words. Take the same precaution with margins, word counts and the other parameters of proposal submissions. These are not put in place to thwart your efforts but to get irregularities out of the way and reveal the clean, clear idea in the document.

The great Russian actress Faina Ranevskaya said it about as well as anybody could: “Spelling mistakes in a letter [we’ll call it a proposal] are like a bug on a white shirt.”


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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