When you start writing a grant proposal, you might begin drafting it as a Word document, using whatever fonts you like best and perhaps retaining custom margin settings you’ve used in the past. Or maybe you work as part of a team, and each contributor prefers different fonts and line spacing, which produces a document containing a variety of styles. Eventually, and sometimes with a great deal of effort, these individual choices will need to be revised so there is a uniform use of fonts, text styles, spelling, and formatting throughout the document.
A style sheet is a useful tool to capture your (or your organization’s) preferences for handling basic style questions. The style sheet is not exhaustive—it won’t replace a style guide such as The Chicago Manual of Style—but it should cover many of the common style questions that affect how a document looks. Your employer may already have a style sheet to ensure uniformity across the various types of publications it produces. If your employer does not have a style sheet, it is worth taking time early in the proposal process to create one that incorporates not only basic style elements but also the specific requirements for the grant application you're working on.
Having a style sheet in place from the beginning of the proposal process will help ensure that the correct margins and font sizes are used. It's much easier to pull together the final draft when line spacing, font size, and margins have been used consistently from the beginning.
What Should Be Included in a Style Sheet?
Some things, like font choice and the text size for headings, should be included in every style sheet. Other things will be unique to your organization or to the particular project, publication, or grant proposal in question.
If you are working on a proposal for a project that will take place in a country where your organization has never worked before, you may find yourself dealing with acronyms, place names, and government departments that are new to you. These proposal-specific items should be added to the style sheet to ensure their proper use. Likewise, if the funder has provided detailed instructions on how to prepare the proposal (e.g. page limits, font type and size, margins), you’ll want to add these requirements to your style sheet to make sure you follow the funder’s requirements and not your organization’s default style preferences.
Four things to keep in mind when creating a style sheet
Include only the most important, common items to keep the document brief
Cite the comprehensive style guide (e.g. Chicago Manual of Style) to be used for style decisions not covered by the style sheet
Organize the format and content so that it is easy to follow (e.g. use tables and clear headings)
Add style preferences for referencing social media and Web-based content
If your employer does not have a style sheet for you to work from, you may find it works best to create a new style sheet for each grant opportunity instead of relying on a version created for an earlier proposal. Creating a new style sheet for each proposal will prompt you to look closely at the funder-specific application guidelines and any abbreviations or acronyms unique to the given project’s activities or location.
In addition to the covering style and punctuation preferences, the style sheet can also be a place to add reminders of common grammar or spelling mistakes.
Examples of common grammar mistakes include:
Possessives (e.g. its versus it’s)
Homonyms (there versus their)
Articles (“an” if the following word starts with a vowel sound, so “an” elephant, but “a” if it sounds like it starts with a consonant, as in “Euro”)
Pronouns (“who” to refer to people, “that” to refer to things)
With a style sheet to refer to as they work on the proposal, the writers can adhere to the application's style requirements from the first draft of the proposal, reducing the amount of formatting required to assemble the final draft. A style sheet will also help the reviewers of each of the proposal drafts, who will be reviewing the document for both content and structure.
To get started with creating your own style sheet, download a sample style sheet and check out the online resources and books for ideas on what to include.
Online Grammar Resources
Grammar & Copyediting Books
Handbook for Proofreading by Lauren Killen Anderson
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty