PiT has an excellent post up about the manuscript review process, which I thought might be worth following up with a post on grants. See, when I first sent proposals in I pictured a process during which my 15 pages of text was carefully read, considered over some time and probably looked over a second time for clarification and summation of key points.
I have done my share of ad hoc reviewing, usually of between 1 and 4 grants a round for the last couple of years. When you have a month to comment on one or two grants, it's not hard to read it through a couple of times (at least some parts), look up some references that you are curious about and think about the proposal before writing your review. Often, I'll come back to the review a week or so later and make sure I got my points across in a way that reflects what I think of the project.
When you have a stack of reviews (can you believe that I even got 2 more ad hoc requests today, despite being on a fucking panel!) it changes the equation. Why is this important? Because I'll be the dude at the table either advocating for your proposal or not. With 15 proposals on my desk, there are two ways they get reviewed:
1) At work I read through the proposals with a minimum of 20 interruptions per grant. A good day is one where I can actually finish an entire proposal in a day, but most get spread over two days. I can't close my door and not answer phone or email for these because I would be dead to the world for a week if I did that for 15 proposals. Let's not forget that the semester is starting and I have a couple of things to attend to around that time.
2) At home I open a proposal after dinner, after the Wee One has been put to bed and I've had a long day. Maybe I'm drinking a beer while reading your proposal, maybe something stronger. I'm probably tired and maybe thinking of (or, *ahem*, writing) my next blog post.
This is actually kinda key to think about when you are writing a proposal. Undivided attention to your proposal is probably unlikely. What have you got that is going to capture my attention and keep me from answering that phone or email? Is your proposal going to make me tell one of my grad students to come back later with their problem?
Maybe more importantly, have you written the proposal in a way that is conducive to reading with non-continuous attention? Did you stack your hypotheses all at the beginning, only to never have them appear again? Maybe not a good idea. Is your summary catchy and poignant or an afterthought you whipped together with scraps off the cutting room floor? Yes, it is odd that the people who have more time to look over your proposal are not in the room when it is being discussed, but that's the deal.
This is not to say that I'm going to skim these grants and do a half-assed job, by any means. I take it as seriously as I would want someone else to do when reading my proposal. What it does mean, however, is that how the grant is written is going to factor into my impression of it more than you might expect. I don't have time to sift carefully through your three paragraph explanation of how wonderful a technique is when all I want to know is how you are going to apply it. Make it easy for your reviewers to take home your main points, otherwise you're going to get drowned out in the static.
p.s. And don't make lots of stupid grammar and spelling mistakes. Everyone makes some, but if I am seeing one or two per page I start to wonder if I am putting in more effort than you did.