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Debbie DiVirgilio, GPC

About Debbie

Step Up Your Game as a Grantwriter: Avoid Deadwood Phrases

The 2012 Grant Professionals Conference held in Indianapolis hosted more than 70 workshops for grant professionals at all levels—beginners, intermediate and advanced. Sharon Skinner, Grants Coordinator for the City of Mesa, Arizona and Elizabeth Wilkinson, Corporate & Finance Officer at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, presented a workshop on enhanced proposal writing that included a section on eliminating “deadwood” phrases.

To understand the concept of this aspect of the workshop, I had to look at the dictionary definition of deadwood. The logical definition, “dead” “wood,” seemed too simple. According to, one of the definitions is unnecessary words or verbiage used in writing. Deadwood writing occurs in all forms of writing, but for the grant professional must be avoided at all costs.

As grant professionals, we know that our writing must be clear and accurate as we work to express our message to the reader. We are also all aware of the necessity for brevity as we encounter more and more electronic applications that limit our responses to a certain number of characters or words. Using deadwood phrases in our writing has the potential to make our proposals “dead on arrival.”

Deadwood phrases are often found in wordy writing; in other words, using two or three words when just one will do. You can improve your writing by replacing deadwood phrases with better expressions. For example, instead of saying, “in all cases,” simply say “always.”

Effective writing skills are a necessity for today’s grant professionals. We view our writing as a reflection of ourselves and our expertise. Eliminating deadwood phrases helps our peers to view us as effective writers who are articulate, write with clarity, and are succinct.

Below I’ve listed some of the most common deadwood phrases I have encountered. Immediately following each less-than-desirable term are alternatives that you could use.

  • A majority of or vast majority most
  • At the present time – now, currently
  • Due to the fact that – because
  • For this reason – Thus, therefore, hence, so
  • In close proximity to near, close by, adjacent, nearby
  • In excess of more than
  • In the near future soon
  • It is evident that – Clearly, unmistakably, evidently
  • It is well known that – commonly accepted
  • Prior to – before, previously
  • Reach a conclusion conclude, determine, infer, decide
  • Utilize – use
  • Organizational – organization, agency
  • Myriad – many, lots
  • More and more – increasingly
  • Over and over – repeatedly

A full list of commonly used deadwood phrases can be found at

Obviously, we have all used one or more of these phrases in our writing, thinking that when we use more words, our writing is taken to a higher level. However, most people enjoy reading on a sixth to eighth grade reading level. All those deadwood phrases are simply unnecessary.


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