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The Top FREE Tools I Use Writing Grants & How They Will Help You Too

Today, I’m going to share 4 platforms that I use for FREE that have helped me streamline the grant writing process and how they can help you secure competitive small business grants!

Writing grant proposals can be a tedious and difficult process that can take weeks or even months to complete. This is especially true if you are shooting for high-value grants in the $100,000’s or even $1 Million range where these applications can be over 100 pages long. After years of writing these grant applications, I have found the absolute best software solutions that make the process easier, faster, and more streamlined.

Even though as the team leader, I, Stacy Chin, Ph.D., specialize in helping clients secure non-dilutive federal grants from the SBIR/STTR programs, these platforms can be used across all aspects of technical writing for academic journals, technical reports, white papers, dissertations, fellowships, and so much more.

So, let’s dive into the four platforms that have taken some of the stress out of the grant writing process for me and how they can help you on your grant writing journey, too!

Grammarly: A Top-Notch Editing Software

When writing long grant applications, like SBIR/STTR proposals, I usually tell clients to buffer at least 3 months to prepare a strong application. And within those 3 months, our goal is to draft a strong technical narrative which is usually the main component that can be anywhere from 6 to 15 pages long or even longer. Because this document will get the most scrutiny from the grant reviewers, we want to make sure it is in tip-top shape.

So that means many changes, revisions, and edits need to get made in that document within that 3-month period. It is not uncommon for me and clients to be revising Version 10 of the technical narrative. Of course, with so many revisions going on in that same document, you can imagine that the grammar and punctuation get a bit messy…

As you continue to edit and revise the same document over and over again, it gets harder and harder to pick up grammatical errors like wrong verb tenses, prepositions, subject-verb agreement, misplaced commas, and all that other good stuff. And, I get it. After working on a huge proposal for 3 months, you are tired and exhausted so seemingly small details like grammar mistakes are likely the last thing on your mind.

But these errors are something you absolutely must fix. Submitting a poorly edited grant application doesn’t make a good impression on you and your start-up and even impacts your credibility. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes also make it very difficult for reviewers to understand the key points you have spent time and energy drafting. As a reviewer for several federal agencies myself, I’ve seen these types of applications come through, and please take my word for it – they do not go over well in those review sessions.

Luckily, Grammarly can step in to save the day. I’ve tried editing the grammatical errors myself and have gone the route of hiring copywriters and editors, too, but I have found Grammarly has been the best solution for me.

Grammarly is a free online writing assistant that reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and even delivery mistakes. It can also help users write in a particular tone or style like formal, educational, informative, casual, and more. And, I can’t tell you how helpful Grammarly has been for me to identify and fix grammatical errors, especially in the 11th hour right before submission.

Simply install Grammarly as a plug-in on your web hosting platform, or wherever you write grants such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Once you are at the final stage of your grant application, just run the Grammarly extension on the most current draft and it will identify all the grammatical errors and provide recommendations on how to fix them within seconds. Yes, it is that easy!

So, before you finalize and submit any grant application, make sure to do a thorough spelling and grammar check using Grammarly.

Otter.AI: A Smart Transcription Software

When working with new clients, one of the first things I need to figure out is (1) whether they have thought out their strategy about what they want to propose and (2) whether they have anything written on paper that summarizes their company or innovative idea that we can use for their application.

In many cases, the answer to both questions is, “no.” So, then one of my goals is to ensure our clients can provide us with sufficient content and materials to be able to prepare a strong application. Depending on what we ask for, some clients prefer to write out paragraphs themselves and then hand them over. On the other hand, there are clients that are stronger verbal thinkers and prefer to hash out ideas using speech.

In these instances, previously I would jump on brainstorming calls with them and try to quickly type my notes throughout our discussion. Unfortunately, I found this to be very exhausting and challenging since I could easily miss something important if I don’t type quickly enough, make a mistake in my notes, or misinterpret what the client said. Instead of spending my time and energy asking the right questions and brainstorming the strategy with them, this huge bottleneck takes my attention away since all of my efforts were focused on trying to keep up with my note taking.

Once I discovered Otter.AI, this was a huge game changer for me. Otter.AI is a platform that takes voice meeting notes and real-time transcriptions. I’ve tried other built-in transcription features in Google Drive and Microsoft Word but they are full of mistakes and don’t work very well. What sets Otter.AI apart from other transcription platforms is that it uses artificial intelligence to transcribe speech, hence the “AI” part of the name.

Although it is not 100% perfect, I found this platform to work the best of those I’ve tried, especially when capturing a lot of complex technical words and acronyms which are commonly thrown across my conversations due to the type of grants I work with.

You can sign up for Otter.AI in a couple of seconds online and simply hit the record button when you are ready to transcribe conversations. After you are done, the system will process the transcription and then inform you when it is ready for you to review. Then, the transcription can be copied and pasted into a Word document and revised and edited accordingly. It’s that easy.

If you are interested in trying out Otter.AI, I have a referral code for you here.

Mendeley: A Comprehensive Reference Management System

As I mentioned above, my team and I at, specialize in helping clients secure non-dilutive SBIR/STTR funding. These proposal opportunities specifically are meant to support science and tech start-ups pursuing R&D efforts to create new innovative solutions.

A common strategy to emphasize the need for SBIR funding is to back up your problem statement, hypothesis, and approach with references. This is an excellent way to prove the validity and justify the need for your innovation.

To do so, you’ll want to include references from reliable research journals and peer-review articles throughout your grant application as well as a list of those references that can accompany your submission. I always recommend using Google Scholar to find these sources.

It is good practice to include a number or citation next to that statement that refers to the supporting reference, too. This just makes it easier for reviewers to find that reference if they want more information. So for a Phase I SBIR application, I typically advise to clients include a minimum of 20-25 references and for Phase II at least 40-50.

Now as I have said, the technical narrative of SBIR proposals can undergo many, many revisions. Content will get deleted; things will get moved around; and, new material can be added in random places. These changes can also screw up the citations in your grant - sometimes really, really bad. So if you are preparing a 40-page SBIR application that cites over 50 references, you can imagine that re-organizing these references in numerical order is not an easy stroll in the park. Between you and me, this is one of the worse parts of the job, especially if you do this by hand since it will take you hours just to clean up the references.

To prevent myself from pulling my hair out, I use Mendeley. Mendeley is a free online reference management software platform that helps to organize and keep track of all of my references within a proposal application, as well as across many different proposal projects.

What I like about Mendeley is that it is super user-friendly. In Mendeley, you can easily search for peer review articles and book chapters which can be added to your library. You can then install a Mendeley plug-in in Microsoft Word and quickly upload the citation into your grant application. Mendeley also makes it simple to reformat references to different citation styles and it can compile your bibliography or reference list in a matter of seconds. During your revisions, if things get moved around or are out of order, Mendeley will even fix this for you with just a click of a button, too.

I currently have thousands of references in my Mendeley library across all of my proposal projects and I can’t tell you how much time I have saved (along with my sanity) using Mendeley to help organize and fix my citations.

So, whenever you are writing a large grant application, make sure to have Mendeley accessible and ready to go as this tool will save you so much time and effort with your references.

Google Drive & DropBox: Fantastic Document Hosting Services

And last, but not least, the final technology platforms that have been so vital in my grant writing journey are file and document hosting services like Google Drive and DropBox.

As I mentioned above, grant applications can sometimes be over 100 pages long and are composed of so many different technical and supporting documents. The technical narratives, alone, can take up a lot of space to store on your hard drive since these are typically super-dense documents filled with lots of text, colorful figures, graphs, and tables.

The most recent 12-page Research Strategy I helped a client prepare for their FastTrack application to the NIH took up 5 megabytes of storage on my hard drive. These large files can be very difficult to e-mail back and forth between clients since there is a size limit on attachments. Additionally, preparing a large grant application requires input from multiple team members and consultants, so it can be very difficult to share these large files.

For these reasons, you’ll want to have access to a secure file and document hosting service, like Google Drive and DropBox. These platforms make it so much easier to store and organize large files securely.

They also make it a breeze to share files since I can simply e-mail a link to a client to direct them to a particular document instead of struggling to attach large files and send them via e-mail. Document-sharing services also make it simple to keep documents organized which is rather important when there are so many moving parts in the process of preparing a large grant application, such as an SBIR/STTR proposal.

Let me know in the comments below if you would like to know more about how I use DropBox or Google Drive to organize and streamline my workflow when preparing SBIR grant proposals.

Final Advice

Applying for small business grants through the Small Business Administration to fund your tech startup or any other grant writing journey can be tedious. However, these four powerful and free tools can make a world of difference!

Try them for yourself and if you would like more resources and advice on securing STTR/SBIR funding, check out the website and Youtube Channel!

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