Gaining a Fresh Perspective on an Old Document

Are you so tired of your proposal that you’d rather do anything than read it again? Here are a few strategies for getting fresh perspective on an old document.

  1. Explain the proposal to someone – Ask a friend or colleague if you can talk them through your proposal. Often times saying the ideas out loud will help you realize the parts that need work–or that your proposal is in better shape than you think it is.
  2. Read the proposal out loud – Particularly once you’re at the stage where you are editing for sentence-level errors, read the document out loud (or have the computer read it to you). This is a great way to catch awkward sentences or missing words.
  3. Print the document – If your eyes have started to cross from staring at the computer screen, print the document out and edit with a pen. Changing the format will allow you to catch things you’ve never seen before.
  4. Change the font and size of the text – Altering your visual cues can shake the sense of complacency and help you see the document differently.
  5. Reverse outline the document – Although we’re taught that outlining is the first part of writing, it is also a great strategy for seeing how the document as a whole fits together. Jot down the main idea of each section and each paragraph, and look at how the proposal comes together as a whole. This is a good strategy for tightening up the logical structure of the document.
  6. Start in the middle – If you always start at the beginning of a long document, chances are you tire out near the middle and barely skim the end. If your proposal is 16 pages long, start revising on page 8 and work your way through – you’ll have a fresh view of those end pages, and give the middle the attention it deserves.
  7. Give yourself a time limit – Often, the worst part of editing is the sinking realization you are going to be at it all day. Instead, pick a section of the proposal and set a timer. Edit for 30 minutes and then give yourself a break. 30 minutes of focus can be far more productive than hours of semi-productive work.
  8. Have someone else read it – We’ve talked before about the wisdom of writing groups. The best time to call on a few trusted friends is when you’ve hit a wall and can’t seem to write any more. Tell them where you’re stuck – what questions you have, and what seems to be holding you up.
  9. Revisit the funder guidelines – If your document seems stale, go back to the funder guidelines and pay close attention to how they describe their mission. This might trigger some ideas for how to freshen up the document and make it match the funder goals.
  10. Read something new – If all else fails, put the writing aside and spend some time reading books or articles that relate to your proposal. This will help remind you of how other people are talking about your research area, and might help you approach the document with new eyes.
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