Apply now! The challenge of applications

apply now bar

In times of scarce resources (more people competing for fewer funds) and growing openness to crowdsourcing as a method to identify interesting solutions (often accompanied by prizes), the manner in which you transmit what you have in mind carries a live-or-die kind of weight with it.

And since we’re usually filling applications not  because we have nothing better to do, but because we really want to make something out of it, I decided to put together a list of a few things that I believe are worth keeping in mind:

1. Language. By all means, keep it clear, succinct, and logical. Short sentences without jargon, acronyms and buzz words cannot be overestimated. Keep word limits. Do not overuse the words used in the title of the challenge – if your solution is truly green, it doesn’t need “green” as an adjective to every second noun.

2. Answer the questions. I know, we often wanna say more than the questions allow (and that’s natural – we’re passionate about our projects; I struggled with it myself tens of times), but sticking to the question will actually do you more good than clogging your answer with digressions, side notes, and other somewhat-related details. If you start watering your answers, you actually risk losing reader’s attention.

3. Attention! Scanning in progress! As heart-breaking as it is, in cases when hundreds or even thousands of people/organizations send in their applications, the selection committee, despite best intentions, will not be able to read everything you wrote. Therefore, make sure you put the core of your answer at the beginning and if possible bold keywords and use bullet points. These small things help scan the text and learn more from a quick read.

Answering some of the FAQ:

1. What is the problem you are trying to solve? Make your case solid by showing that you have thoroughly researched your problem area – talked with the people and institutional stakeholders, checked the literature, know the numbers. The more we know about the problem, the easier it usually gets to explain it in a simple and at the same time convincing way. There’s no need to overwrite it – a candid problem description with the most important numbers, information about affected people and perhaps a quote from one of them should be enough.

2. What is the solution you are proposing? Describe the mechanics of your solution. Be clear about what you can achieve and how. If possible, try to mention things your solution will not do and explain why despite that it is still worth testing. Don’t overplay it. We are big girls and boys. We know we’re living in a complex word and we’re often painfully aware of the fact that some problems will stay around for decades to come and all we can do is mitigate the damage. That means that being open about the fact that your solution might not be a silver bullet can only help your case.

3. What are the expected results? In other words: how do you define success and failure? What measurable results will prove that your solution is working? Remember to make a clear distinction between outputs and results (different names in different applications, but you know what I mean: the number of people who took part in your training is not the same category as the number of people who set up their own enterprise as a result of your training).

4. What happens once we’re gone? One-time shots are usually not what sponsors  or solution-seekers are looking for. Make it clear, how your project can be scaled up and self-sustained. This is something that really adds value to the solution you are presenting.

Finally…

I may be wrong, but I believe that making sure that your application sounds like an honest conversation between two professionals (one asking questions and one answering), without all the yatta-yatta-yatta is one of the best recipes for a winning application you can get.

What’s your take on it? Am I missing anything?

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