Buzzwords and Jargon in Your Grant Narrative

I was working on some research the other day for a grant narrative. I am amazed that people are getting away with using meaningless jargon on their websites and in other writings. I’d give you a sample, but

  1. You know what I mean.
  2. The offender might be annoyed with using their pearls of wisdom as examples.

When you are writing a narrative, it’s important to be clear. You must assume the reader is not an educator and doesn’t hear the buzzwords and jargon you are using in your narrative. You don’t sound smarter if you know and use these words, the effect is the opposite.

The worst offenders are companies that offer goods or services. Their websites are beautiful to look at, follow all the design rules, but provide no clue to what they are selling. I’ve seen these tendencies in grant narratives too. As the grant writer is trying to describe a new curriculum tool they’d like to buy to support a reading or math program, they descend into corporate blather. It’s all they have to go by so they assume everyone understands what they are describing. Each year there is a new crop of these words and phrases so you have to be alert and stay up to date. Recognizing them is easy – they’re everywhere.

Some examples of buzzwords and educationese:

  1. Solutions, empower, facilitate (if one more site offers a solution, I’ll scream)
  2. Interactive online
  3. Pedagogies (this one may be used sparingly in certain very specific ways)
  4. Technology based
  5. E-learning applications
  6. Blended Learning (currently in vogue)
  7. Brain based learning (we learn somewhere else?)

In tiny doses and in the right places these words can be descriptive, but examples like #6 are meaningless to most lay readers. What is blended about it? Who’s doing the blending? Why are we blending? Do you need a blender?

Your eyes glaze over quickly on these websites. What are they selling, how will their product help me in my classroom, what’s the cost, and most important, where’s the buy button? You may need to scroll through page after page of “pedagogy” to get to the heart of the matter.

You may ask, what does this have to do with grant writing? You are selling something. You’re selling your school, your ideas and your program. The buyers in this case are highly sophisticated people, but not necessarily in your field. Their eyes will glaze over while reading your jargon filled narrative and they will never understand or care who you are or what you need.

When you use Microsoft Word (or OpenOffice), you may use the thesaurus. It can help you break bad habits. For suspected jargon, the thesaurus can often suggest a more meaningful word or phrase. If it’s not in the Word thesaurus, there are other reference resources online.

Of course, spelling errors are death to a grant application. You can add words to the dictionary Word uses so it won’t flag legitimate items (like your school name) as spelling errors. Especially important is to double and triple check the spelling of names and other items that identify what you are selling.

So think of your narrative as a sales tool. However, resist the temptation to show how smart you are by using jargon and the latest buzzwords. You don’t want your narrative to confuse or frustrate your readers.

Send me examples of jargon and buzzwords that drive you crazy, I’ll make a collection of them so we can all avoid them in the future.


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About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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