Semicolons for Grant Writers

*Note from Diane: Grammar might not seem like the coolest topic to address, or the most viral of topics for a grant writing blog, but it is a critical part of our work as grant professionals for creating compelling applications. Julie does a great job in today’s post of outlining the value of the semicolon in creating a concise and clear piece for a grant reviewer to read.


I not only write grant applications, I read them as well. Whether as a peer review editor or a grant reviewer, I see that semicolon use is often a conundrum for grant writers. Writers are tending to place semicolons where it seems as if they feel the need for a “heavier” punctuation. They might not know the best placement for clear reading.

While there is more than one nifty use for semicolons, they are rarely needed in writing. Here I will concentrate on one use that is often needed by grant writers which is to separate items in a complex list.

One issue in grant applications is the requirement to tell a specific story, yet keep the description brief and easy to read even though most charitable organizations accomplish multiple tasks that must be listed in detail. A semicolon works well to help the reader understand items in complex lists. It serves to separate a series within a series. Here’s an example of semicolon use in a long, listing sentence that serves to separate the internal comma punctuation:

Social XYZ clients receive numerous services such as health screenings, including HIV testing; youth and adult counseling; substance abuse prevention, education and treatment; and meal, transportation and temporary housing vouchers.

Semicolons are also helpful in a bulleted sentence with several descriptive phrases.

Patrons have grown to expect three things from contemporary libraries:

  • free, librarian guided information, whether in the library or online, both in print and digitally;
  • resources and programming that provide opportunities for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, so all can pursue their own path to learning; and
  • a pleasing space for the community to gather and share information and art.

Whether a writer uses the Oxford or serial comma or not, when separating series within series, placing a semicolon before the final “and” of the overall series helps retain the clear presentation of complex information.

While semicolons are extremely useful in clarifying lists for readers, they should only be used with necessary. They are chunky and messy if used out of context. I suspect too that semicolons may take extra “character count” space in digital applications. Semicolon use can help your grant narratives by signaling enough pause to ensure the reader’s clear understanding of the presented information.


What proofreading tips or tricks do you have for ensuring that your piece is utilizing grammar to enhance the readability of your work? We’d love to hear! Share with us in the comments section on the website, via social media or drop Diane an email at

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