Wikipedia Article Evaluation: Grant Writing


[Please note: There were substantial revisions to the “grant writing” article between October 2 when I first accessed it and October 4 when I completed this blog post.  The article was converted to a stub.  My evaluation focuses on the article as it existed on October 2 (see the version prior to User:Tony1’s edits)]

I chose to evaluate the Wikipedia article on grant writing.  For the last eight years, I have written grants in either a full-time professional capacity or as a pro bono service to non-profit organizations and community groups with which I have been involved.

Grant writing was not my first choice for this assignment.  I looked at articles on a range of topics, but this was the first that I found that was lacking significant content and quality.  I found this surprising given the number of individuals engaged in grant writing (consider how many development professionals, researchers, and professors are writing grants at Harvard alone).  Another topic that I looked at, Spinozan philosophy, appeals to a much narrower range of Wikipedia users.  However, there was not only a very comprehensive page on the Philosophy of Spinoza, there was also a separate page on Baruch de Spinoza—the man behind the philosophy.  This suggests that, with regard to the quality of an article, the size of the constituency for a given topic probably matters less than the intensity of interest.  The relatively few individuals who are interested in the philosophy of Spinoza are likely much more passionate about that subject and more willing to write about it than the many individuals who are involved in grant writing.


Comprehensiveness: The article is not comprehensive.  There is no mention of the research process that inevitably precedes the writing and is a critical part of the grant’s success or failure.  While the article identifies governments, foundations, and corporations as sources of potential grants, it does not detail the differences between the three.  Those differences are significant.  Federal grants, for example, typically require substantially different information than corporate or foundation grants.  The article could also benefit from a discussion of the commonly requested attachments: letters of 501(c)(3) status, audited financial statements, and forms 990.

Sourcing: Much of the content is uncited, and some of it appears to express opinion or interpretation without being identified as such (for more on this, see Neutrality below).  The Foundation Center is a highly-regarded source in the grant writing profession, but it comprises three of the six citations, which indicates that the authors were overly dependent upon it.  Sources that one familiar with grant writing would expect to see, such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy or regional resources like Associated Grantmakers (Massachusetts) or the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, are absent.

Neutrality: Edits prior to October 2 indicate that there was a problem with professional grant writing consultants using the article to promote their services.  As a result of this and the sourcing problems mentioned above, it is difficult to separate objective fact from subjective interpretation.  Despite the edits to remove overt advertisements, sections like the following remain:

“Recently several grant writing consulting firms have been developed to provide a range of services to subscribing clients. This means they have a broader skill-set to suit client needs, such as relationship management, grant prospect research, grant writing, and grants planning, as well as grant reporting services to ensure that the client continues to meet requirements for funding once grants are awarded.  If funds permit, hiring a professional to do either all or part of the grant writing is probably the easiest, quickest and most effective option.” (Doing it yourself (DIY) or hiring a professional section).

It is hard to view this as anything other than a non-neutral endorsement for a type of service. The problem of subjectivity is made worse by the fact that much of the article (most notably the DIY section) is written in the form of a how-to guide.  As the discussion boards note, the how-to content may be better suited to Wikiversity or Wikibooks rather than an encyclopedia.  (There is currently no Wikiversity article but there is a Wikibooks entry for grant writing.)

Readability: The article avoids jargon and is easy to understand.  However, the ordering of the sections detracts from the article’s readability.  The “Demand” and “Doing it yourself (DIY) or hiring a professional” sections should not appear as early in the article as they do (whether they should appear at all is a separate but valid question).  It would make more sense to begin with “Elements of a good proposal.”

Formatting:  Much of the article is written in the second person, which Wikipedia frowns upon (see Wikipedia: Writing better articles).  The section headings are inconsistent.  Some are much more relevant to the overall topic than others, and the heading “Demand” is too vague.

Illustration: The Wikipedia article does not contain any illustrations, though it is hard to imagine the illustrations that would complement an article on grant writing.  The Wikibooks entry for grant writing includes a picture of a dollar bill, which is only marginally better than no illustration at all.