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In grant seeking, cloning is the use of proposal templates taken to its extreme limits. So far as I know it is not yet a technical term in common use in grant writing. Cloning happens when reviewers for a single competition encounter two or more proposals — from ostensibly different applicants — that repeat each other in so many ways that they may as well be one and the same proposal.


Using a clone to apply for a grant is bad practice from the start. Like the use of templates, it rarely yields a grant. And when a funder does award a grant for a clone, as often as not its recipient sooner or later comes to regret its good fortune.


This post is the second in a series on the use of templates, clones, and boilerplate in grant writing.


Cloned Proposals Defined:

The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘clone’ as ‘a person or thing regarded as an exact copy of another’ and it defines ‘to clone’ as to ‘make an identical copy of’ something. In the context of grant seeking, a cloned proposal — as I use the term — is one whose content is precisely the same as one or more others or one that is so nearly the same that it is all but indistinguishable from those others.


Reviewing Cloned Proposals:

Upon occasion, technical reviewers, working either alone or on a panel, may encounter two or more cloned proposals during a single proposal review period. The first clone is likely to get as unbiased, thorough, and objective a review as it would if it were a unique proposal. It will do so since it will appear to each reviewer who reads and scores it to be a unique and custom-created grant application.


An attentive reviewer, upon noting that a second proposal seems to be a clone of the first, may feel shortchanged or deprived of the stimulation that comes from reading one unique proposal after another. If possible, the reviewer may try to verify the perception that the second proposal is a clone. In some reviews, looking at both proposals side by side will be possible; in others, it will not.


Sooner or later the reviewer may recognize the same language, the same formats, and the same errors in the second proposal as in the first. Even if the format differs, the content may read the same so often as to appear for all practical purposes to be identical to the first. Upon recognizing the repetitiousness of content, the reviewer may become more critical in commenting and scoring and may search far more diligently for reasons to adjust scores downward. Even if reviewers have been instructed explicitly to review each proposal on its own merits, they may question the credibility of both applicants and their entire proposals, and they may resent having to read and rate mere clones.


If on the same day or the next day the same reviewer encounters a third proposal that is a clone of others before it, the consequences for that hapless applicant may become grim indeed. By this time, even the most self-disciplined of reviewers may begin to feel so bored with the proposal that he or she may search relentlessly for reasons to give it a low score. The reviewer may also feel compelled to call attention to the cloning to a review panel monitor, or to a review proctor, or to a program officer. Program staff may still direct all reviewers to score every clone from otherwise eligible applicants, but such directives may not deter those reviewers from registering their displeasure through their scoring.


Cloning and Ethics:

Each applicant that submits a cloned proposal runs many risks. Among the risks are low review scores, reviewers’ recommendations to deny funding, and a blot on its credibility and reputation with the grant program and/or the grant maker. Anyone who furnishes a cloned proposal to two or more clients — with or without prior explicit disclosure of the practice to all parties involved — puts his or her interests ahead of the clients’ interests.


I propose that grant writers everywhere should condemn such practices for being precisely what they are: unethical, unprofessional, and intolerable. What do you think?




  1. I agree with what you say; however, in this scenario “template” is a bad word. A template can also be an original grant written for an organization that goes on to use that grant as a basis for the same or similar programs, revising and improving as needed. In that case a template is “good.” Granted, it’s just semantics.

    • Thanks for your comment! What you would call ‘a good template’ I call ‘boilerplate’. It will be the subject of my third post in this series. I have not written it yet and will not do so here. In brief, with boilerplate one takes language from one (perhaps funded) proposal and uses it as a starting point for some part of a later proposal. It is used recursively and it changes every time one uses it. Boilerplate provides structures for creating proposal elements that come up rime after time. It stimulates and accelerates writing, but does not replace it.

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