Posted by Jim Craner on November 1, 2023

In October, we held a free beta workshop series for library grantwriters to test how AI can help write grants.  In this article, we'll review some of the lessons learned and provide some sample prompts from our experiments!

General Guidelines for "Chat" AI Usage

Tools like ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude are a special type of artificial intelligence ("AI") that  specialize in reading - and generating - human language.  These types of AI are called "Large Language Models," or "LLMs."

No matter what you're trying to accomplish with a language-based AI, there are a few basic guidelines to help improve your experience.  These aren't specific to grantwriting or even the library sector -- they're useful for anyone working with an LLM.

  • Use clear language that specifies exactly what you're seeking:

    Bad: "Help me with this grant."

    Good: "Analyze the following grant requirements and eligibility criteria, summarizing them in a bulleted list.  <COPY PASTE GRANT DOC HERE>"
  • Iterate and refine as needed:

    Bad: "I don't like that text you suggested."

    Good: "That last text passage was too verbose and had too much jargon. Rewrite it and make it simpler.
  • AI knowledge limitations, part 1: provide information TO the AI

    Bad: "What's the best project for our specific library to implement?"

    Good: "Given these library grant requirements <COPY PASTE GRANT DOC HERE> and this copy of our annual strategic planning document <COPY PASTE STRATEGIC PLAN HERE>, suggest a dozen potential projects our library could implement, and how they fulfill the strategic goals in the plan."
  • AI knowledge limitations, part 2: always verify all information FROM the AI

    Remember: AI isn't a perfect reference source.  To avoid "hallucinations," where the AI generates false information, always verify AI-written text before publishing it or sharing it.

Working With Documents and Tasks

Participants in our workshop used a prototype of our in-house AI platform designed to read and write documents.  You can import documents from your computer (or just type them in) and then tell the AI to use them -- combine them, remix them, use them as inspiration -- to create a new document.

Note: you don't need a document-oriented AI tool to do this. If you're using ChatGPT Plus, NotebookLM, or Claude, you can upload the files or just copy/paste the document text into the chat window!

So this approach led us to a "remix" approach where we "built" a grant proposal by making new documents.  Think of it like a cookbook of recipes!

Getting Started: Make a Plan

  • Create a new document called "Grant Information" and copy/paste in all of the information about the grant opportunity: the funder's webpage about the grant, the requirements, the application form, etc.
  • Create a new document called "Library Information" and copy/paste in relevant information about your library: text from your website's "About" page, information from your city/county website about your library.  You might include demographics about your service area, a description of your community, and other information typically included in grants.
  • Now let's mix them up with this AI prompt:
    Given the included Grant Information and Library Information, create a detailed work plan that will help us create a fantastic grant proposal. If you need additional information first, just ask me before creating the work plan.

Now you should get a comprehensive step-by-step guide to completing your grant proposal!

Handle the "Boring Stuff" Easily: Transform Statistics Into Narrative

This was suggested by participant Erin Woodard, a professional library grantwriter, who needed a narrative describing her community.

  • Create a new document called "Community Information" and copy/paste in all of the relevant data.  You can include Census Bureau statistics, school district statistics, demographics, or other data. Remember: unless your AI can access the Internet in real-time, you'll need to provide the source data that the AI will transform into a narrative.  (Remember, if you're just using a simple chat tool, just copy and paste all of that data into the chat window!)
  • Submit the document with this prompt - but adjust it as needed to match what your grant requirements are asking for!  This is just an example:
    We need to create a narrative for a grant proposal. The requirement says: "Describe the community your library serves, paying special attention to demographics, economic challenges, and specific areas where a tech program could make a significant impact." Use the included statistics and data above to generate the narrative.

Now you should get a narrative that you can verify and edit before including it in your grant proposal.

We've included some more "recipes" -- sample prompts that you can adapt for your usage -- below!

Notes About Writing Style

Remember, LLM AI was "trained" by "reading" millions of books, articles, transcripts, computer programs, reports, etc.  Modern AI tools can thus generate text in a wide variety of styles, formats, tones, etc. You can always specify a writing style, e.g., "write in a clear, informal, no-nonsense manner" when requesting text.

Attendee Erin Woodard, mentioned earlier, is a professional grantwriter and had some specific feedback about the default language style that the AI was expressing.  This can vary by grants: some grantors are looking for simple language; other grantors expect complicated academic language and jargon.

Erin felt the AI tool's language was overly simplistic.  She then correctly hypothesized that this was happening because she was including simple language to the AI copied from her library's website -- which, of course, is written to be intelligible to an audience with diverse language capabilities.  A grant review committee might expect more sophisticated writing.

We then did one of my favorite tricks: we asked the AI how we could use the AI better.  In this case, we asked the AI to generate a language style guide that it would then follow!  Here's how you can do the same:

  1. Find one or more documents with a specific style that you wish to emulate.  
  2. Copy and paste the documents into an AI tool along with this prompt:

    Review the attached document(s) and highlight its primary writing characteristics. Distill your findings into a succinct summary covering the language style, tone, structure, vocabulary, and any nuances. The goal is to repurpose your summary as guidance for reproducing the same writing style so form it as an instruction.
  3. The AI should return a description of the writing style.  Here's an example:

    Please write in a style that is clear, engaging, and suitable for a community-oriented context, avoiding academic or scientific jargon. Focus on relatable language and concrete examples to effectively communicate ideas to a diverse audience.
  4. Now you can use that writing style instruction with all of your future document requests.  Using ChatGPT? Include it as a Custom Instruction. Using our PLAID2 or GrantRemixer tool?  Include it as a source document.

Useful Prompt Examples

  • Project Ideas
    • Create a new document named "Brainstorming Session." List all the potential projects and ideas relevant to your library.
    • Use the "Grant Information" document described in the "Getting Started" prompt above.
    • Prompt: Using the list of ideas, generate a brainstorming document that explores the potential benefits, challenges, and relevance of each project idea to the grant’s objectives.
  • Identifying Stakeholders
    • Create a new document called "Stakeholders Information." Include details about potential stakeholders, their interests, and their influence on the project.
    • Use the "Grant Information" document.
    • Prompt: Analyze the stakeholder information and identify key stakeholders for the project, explaining their roles and importance.
  • Resource Allocation
    • Create a new document called "Resource Plan." List all the resources required for the project, including staff, materials, and budget.
    • Use the "Grant Information" document.
    • Prompt: Allocate the listed resources to the different tasks and milestones of the project, ensuring optimal utilization.
  • Collaboration with External Partners
    • Create a new document named "Partnership Details." List potential external partners and describe how they could contribute to the project.
    • Use the "Grant Information" document.
    • Prompt: Develop a plan for collaborating with the listed external partners, outlining the benefits and responsibilities of each party.
  • Risk Assessment
    • Create a new document called "Risk Management Plan." List potential risks associated with the project and their possible mitigations.
    • Use the "Grant Information" document.
    • Prompt: Analyze the listed risks and develop a comprehensive risk management plan, including mitigation strategies for each identified risk.
  • Draft Grant Proposal Writing
    • Use the "Grant Information" document.
    • Use the appropriate documents created in previous steps.
    • Prompt: Write a detailed and persuasive grant proposal using the information provided, ensuring that all grant requirements are met.
  • Editing and Proofreading
    • Use the document "Draft Grant Proposal" created in the previous step.
    • Prompt: Review the grant proposal for any grammatical, syntactical, or formatting errors and make necessary corrections.
  • Feedback and Revisions
    • Use the edited document "Draft Grant Proposal."
    • Create a new document called "Feedback from Reviewers" containing all of the copy/pasted notes, annotations, feedback, etc. from your in-house reviewers.
    • Prompt: Integrate the provided feedback into the grant proposal, making revisions as necessary to improve clarity and impact.
  • Final Compliance Check
    • Use the revised document "Draft Grant Proposal."
    • Prompt: Perform a final check to ensure that the grant proposal complies with all grant requirements and guidelines.
  • Project Reporting Plan
    • Create a new document named "Reporting Plan." List all the reporting requirements and deadlines associated with the grant.
    • Prompt: Develop a comprehensive plan for fulfilling all reporting requirements, ensuring that deadlines and content guidelines are met.

Learn More


Related Webinars

Interested in applying AI to your grant proposal process?

Learn more at our upcoming "Using AI for Library Grantwriting" webinars!