"Facts, Hercule, facts! Nothing matters but the facts. Without them the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game."
Inspector Clouseau's words ring true as much for scientific investigation as they do for legal proceedings--especially because research grants can prove to be as slippery to nail down as the Pink Panther.
Let's just recap the facts of grant writing thus far: We've established how to set the overall tone of your application; we've discussed how to design a good title, work out the structure of your abstract, and come up with logical aims and hypotheses; and we've learned the importance of careful editing. But before we move on to the next stage of the game--how best to put together methods, results, and your game-winning conclusions and discussions--let's review the suggestions, advice, and facts about grant writing that have been mentioned in this series:
20/20 Hindsight Without Time-Travel
Only a quarter to a third of applicants who submit applications to the main federal funding agencies--the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation--get funded. That's some 17,000 to 23,000 grants and renewals out of the 70,000 or so applications sent to the federal agencies every year!
Young Dogs, New Tricks, Old Mistakes
Be aware of mistakes, errors, and oversights that continue to crop up:
Project Titles: The Sweet Smell of Success
The project title needs to be:
What's in an Abstract?
Your grant application abstract should address the four following points:
To be complete, your abstract should:
Dog Walker or Cocktail Talker?
Be sure to set aside enough time to "walk the dog" (i.e., write the proposal), and remember that "an idea without a plan is simply cocktail talk."
Everyone involved in evaluating grants--from program officers to reviewers to funding committees--stresses that jargon should be avoided at all costs.
Keywords Perhaps Not Key
Referral offices--such as those at the NIH--use more than just the title or description to make assignments or pick reviewers.
Rate Your Abstract
Not all reviewers on a panel will be formally assigned to read your entire proposal: Decisions--and the reviews--can be based largely upon this summary. That is why your abstract has to be perfectly constructed and why it is so important to carefully rate your abstract.
Before dashing off to write a full-length proposal, first step back and ask yourself how you want to sell your research:
Uninformed, But Infinitely Intelligent
The research plan should begin with a basic but thorough introduction to the subject.
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
Some application forms ask for the aims of your research proposal explicitly, others ask for it implicitly.
So What?!? We've Heard It All Before
After reading the title, abstract, aims, and hypotheses, the reviewer should have a pretty clear idea of what you hope to achieve and how you plan to go about doing it. In your introduction or "significance" section, you have to now describe why you want to accomplish these aims.
"Say It Again, Sam"
Reviewers become frustrated at having to read, reread, and decipher a research plan before understanding a project. To write well:
Funnels, Paper, and Brainstorms
How can you organize your thoughts?
Treat your reviewers fairly and give them an application that is easy and enjoyable to read.
Positive and Negative Feedback
Whatever writing assignment you undertake--editing is crucial to polishing the final work. For grant applications:
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff---Just Do It!
Applicants can bolster their applications with data from relatively easy but purposeful experiments.
That's it for now. We'll get to grips with the remainder of a grant application in upcoming issues of the Career Development Center--including postings of funded proposals. In the meantime, apply as many as possible of the techniques addressed by the contributors to this series, and what a "WOW!" you'll get! The Pink Panther could soon be in your clutches.
How Not to Kill a Grant Application, continues in 2 weeks ... developing your research plan .