Writing a Fulbright proposal

After my last post on applying for a Fulbright, a couple people emailed me about some of the nuts and bolts of applying, so I thought I’d offer a few tips on how to write a proposal–and this can be applied to other grants as well.

Writing grant proposals is something I know a bit about. I’ve written several and have had pretty good success. Several years ago I got a California artist-in-residency grant to teach writing in a continuation school which also gave me time for my own projects. I also spent seven years going into California state prisons teaching poetry and creative writing as part of the William James arts-in-corrections project. I’ve written grants for organizations and arts groups. A significant part of my income over the years has been from grants. A number of smaller grants have allowed me to put time into writing that I might not have otherwise been able to. The Fulbright was certainly the creme brulee of them all–how else could I have spent six months in India writing?

So how do you go about putting together a proposal?

The most important step, for me, with all of them was to study the organization and study successful grants. Often, the granting agency will send you copies of grant proposals they’ve funded if you ask. Other times, they make samples available. This gives you a chance to see what types of projects have been funded in the past, but more importantly, it gives you an idea of the tone and language for your particular granting agency.

The Fulbright program has samples available under their Project Statement page. Read them. Take notes. Pay attention to the language and style of the proposals.

Some other tips:

  • Keep your proposal within the stated limits. If it says proposals should be three to five pages, don’t send in two pages, don’t send in six.


  • Keep your objective narrow and realistic. People who read proposals have a keen eye for projects that promise too much.
  • Make your language positive. Focus on what you can do and show how your past experience will help you achieve your objectives with this grant.
  • Do a very careful proofreading! Spelling or grammatical errors are a sure way to get your grant sent to the rejection pile. Even if you have a dynamite proposal, if the writing is sloppy it suggests you don’t care enough about it to bother with basic mechanics.
  • The Fulbright is a diplomacy program. If you apply, be sure to address the way your project will contribute to a cross-cultural exchange between yourself and your host country.

Actually, I think this last part is probably significant no matter what you apply for. How does your writing or art project benefit others? Don’t just think about what you want to get out of it, but what is its place in the bigger world? Will you be offering something that goes beyond yourself?

Here are few links that might be helpful:

Getting a Fulbright Scholarship in Creative Writing

Funds for Writers

Grant Seekers Cafe




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