The Abstract: First Impression that Seals Your Fate

The abstract is the most important part of your proposal because it is the first impression you make on the donor. This introduction will seal the fate of your request – for better or worse. You should devote a substantial amount of time and effort to writing this section. You need to keep in mind that this one short page will be your elevator pitch, where in a limited amount of space you will make your argument for funding. Your abstract is the condensed version of the proposal; it highlights the key points, is concise in content and scope, and sets the tone of the project for the reviewer. Despite the fact that I usually write the abstract at the end of the process, it is never an afterthought. The abstract is where you will communicate the major ideas of your plan in just a few sentences. These should include:


In no more than three sentences, this section will establish the need for and impact of your project. Both must be explained in the most concise terms possible, while still making your points clear and understandable to reviewers. The beginning sentence should be broad; the second and third sentences should focus on your project.

Example: In a global community where economies are interdependent, we need to understand the world in which we live. We believe that it is the obligation of our university to prepare students to function in a globalized world, so that they can better meet their responsibilities as citizens. We will augment student competencies in global studies through an interdisciplinary approach.


The goal of your project will be stated directly and succinctly in this section. Use a single sentence, followed by a brief rationale statement on why your goal has been chosen. Be sure to use active language.

Example: The purpose of this two-year project is to strengthen and improve instruction in International Studies and the study of foreign languages through curriculum development and faculty enrichment. This interdisciplinary effort will expand the understanding of cultures and languages throughout all disciplines.

Expected Objectives

This is the “meat” of the abstract, so devote most of your allotted space to this section. In four or five sentences, describe three measurable objectives that demonstrate how you will achieve the goal. This is your promise to the donor about what you will do to solve the problem for which you are seeking the grant.

Example: We will augment student competencies in order for them to function successfully in a global economy. This will be accomplished via curriculum revision, which will create eight linked courses that will enroll 25 students per course over a two year period. In addition, foreign language instruction will take place through the infusion of 16 “Languages Across the Curriculum” courses. To fortify interdisciplinarity, collaboration and coordination between courses and disciplines, a learning community will be developed. Students and faculty will meet once per week in open forum discussions about specific international topics viewed from various perspectives.


Two to three sentences will summarize the major activities that you expect to undertake in order to reach your objectives. The plan of operation within your proposal will relay further details, therefore, choose only your strongest activities for use in the abstract.

Example: We will establish a minor in Global Studies to augment foreign language instruction via the expansion of the “Languages Across the Curriculum” project. To ensure that voices from various cultures and disciplines are present on campus, four distinguished scholars from diverse parts of the world will be invited over a nine month period each year. Faculty will collaborate with their international colleagues in order to globalize their research and curriculum.  


In one or two sentences, summarize why your project is important. Do this by tying your idea back to the issue you mentioned in the introductory sentence. No new information should be added here; you simply need to unify the sections. Stock phrases like “In conclusion…”, or “Taken together, these results show…” may be used to finish your abstract neatly.

Example: In conclusion, this project will build bridges across disciplines as a result of the curriculum development, faculty enrichment and student competencies in international studies. In doing so, this project will influence the entire community by infusing the college’s intellectual life with a deeper appreciation of other cultures, languages, and the international issues that make the planet interdependent.

With respect to style, I suggest that you aim for an average of 16 words per sentence. Each of your sentences should be short enough to be read aloud without pausing for breath. You want to keep the reader’s attention at all times. Ask others to read the finished product to determine where clarification might be needed. It should end with an impactful sentence the reviewers will remember as they begin reading the full narrative of your proposal. Above all, a great abstract is conveyed concisely and in a manner that is easy to follow.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

2 comments on “The Abstract: First Impression that Seals Your Fate

  1. Thank you so much for this and your many other tips for becoming an accomplished grant writer. I learn so much from your site.

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