Today, I have the pleasure of attending an all-day workshop titled: “Writing Winning NIH Grant Proposals” presented by John Robertson, PhD from the Grant Writer’s Seminars & Workshops. Dr. Robertson has graced us with his presence once a year for the last decade, and I’ve personally attended every one in the last four years.

Yes, you read that correctly. The long and short of it is that today will be the fourth time that I’ve attended this same all-day workshop. And, I must say that I’ve found it to be a very useful way to spend 8 hours a year. The information is always incredibly useful and relevant. But, it is still repetitive.

Today, I want to share a strategy on note-taking for this type of repetitive learning experience. Perhaps you’ve written many grants yourself and you’re attending a grant-writing workshop, find a way to frame the information provided in a way that is meaningful for you in the near future. I want to discuss my personal note-taking strategy on my fourth attendance of this workshop.

*Before we continue, I should note that I now have 3 years of previous notes, the speaker provides copies of the slides, and there is an additional 200+ page workbook provided. So, there truly is no need for traditional note-taking.

My Goal: Today, I decided to intentionally focus my learning and note-taking on drafting a complete annotated and bulleted outline of my research plan (with headings, sub-headings, content development notes, and sentence examples) for my upcoming grant proposal by the end of the workshop.

In anticipation of this goal, I printed all of the relevant documents related to my grant application – the RFA and application instructions, the previous grant winners, and all the information from the agency’s mission and goals. I also have a rough sketch of the overall idea and design for my grant application.

I used a bulleted outline for each of the sections of the research plan, and combined this bulleted list with content strategy notes from the presenter on how to write my specific aims section and my overall research plan.

My notes include well-defined section and sub-section headings, notes on how to craft that specific section or paragraph, and strong example sentences.  Below is an example of how the notes are structured/color-coded for easy reference (sorry the numbers are exactly correct):

  1. Section Heading
    • Sub-Section Heading
      • Paragraph (notes on how to write this paragraph)
        • Sentence (notes on how to write this sentence)
          • Example of a really well-structured sentence in this paragraph.
    • Sub-Section Heading
      • Paragraph (notes on how to write this paragraph)
        • Sentence (notes on how to write this sentence)
          • Example of a really well-structured sentence in this paragraph.

I hope this post inspires you to think twice about your own note-taking strategy during workshops or repetitive learning experiences. Find a way to make the content interesting and immediately relevant to your career goals. You are in-charge of your learning experience and only you can make it useful and relevant. Stop depending on the presenters, and NEVER STOP LEARNING!