It might seem as though grant proposals are pretty cut-and-dried, without much latitude for how you express your ideas. This may seem especially true in the case of government grants, which have pretty definite and no-nonsense guidelines. I’ve written in more than one previous article that it’s important and necessary to adhere to the guidelines, or else risk disqualification.

There are several issues at stake here if you decide to get too creative and ignore guidelines. You won’t provide the necessary, asked-for information that helps the decision making. You show that you are not necessarily capable of handling funds responsibly if you can’t follow directions. And third, some funders have so many grant applications, an easy way for them to make the initial cuts is to eliminate grant applications from those who ignored the instructions.

While all this is true for any grant application, it’s especially important with government grants. There’s a reason that the government has a reputation for being sticklers about protocol process. It’s nearly a sure thing that disregarding their guidelines will mean no government grants for you.

Now, all that being said, there is a way that you can tailor your writing to get a more favorable reaction from the government grant reviewer. If you mirror the language and style of the request for proposals (RFPs), you will show that you read it carefully and are on the same wavelength as the funder. Even if it’s not a conscious reaction, the grant reviewer will view your proposal in a more positive light.

As mentioned elsewhere, one of the most important factors in having your government grant proposal chosen is to show that there’s a match between the government’s needs and when you proposed to provide. Aligning your proposal wording with their RFP wording will make it easier for the government grant reviewer to see a point-for-point match between what they’re asking for and what you’re offering.

Now, some government grant RFPs have notoriously convoluted and wordy phrasing. In these cases, you won’t want to make your responses exactly mirror their style. You can extract a few of their keywords to use in your response, but still make it a little more succinct and to-the-point than their wording was.

You may be wondering why the technique of mirroring is so effective. It’s sometimes used in in-person encounters by people in a wide range of roles, from psychiatrists, to job applicants, to car salespersons. It establishes rapport and empathy, and is subtly flattering to the person who initiated the action. Although you won’t like be face-to-face with the government grant reviewer, using mirroring style and language in your writing has the same effect. It’s especially true in this era of short attention spans and distractedness. If you’re able to convey to someone, “I hear what you’re saying, and respect it” through mirroring, it can be very effective in your government grant proposal.