|Communicating Research Value in Proposals|
|Friday, 27 August 2010 12:32|
"The panel enthusiastically supports this proposal." If you saw this in your reviews, you would think your proposal would be funded, right? Unfortunately, this very quote came from a proposal that was not funded. More and more we see proposals with excellent reviews being declined. Why? Part of the answer is simply increased competition. Program officers receive more good ideas than they can fund. This is not likely to change.
So, what can we do? Sponsors are increasingly focused on the value of research, and applicants can do a better job of communicating research value in proposals, and can do so in plain language. The August 2010 edition of the National Institutes of Health Extramural Nexus shares some principles for communicating value in your application, which apply to sponsors in general.
Remember your application is a public document. Application titles, abstracts and statements of the public relevance or your research are read by reviewers, program officers and other agency staff. Once funded, this information is also available to the public. It is essential that the public is able to learn about the research projects in which our nation is investing. Therefore, the extramural community has a responsibility to clearly communicate the intent and value of their research to all those interested in learning more—Congress, the public, administrators, and scientists. Take every opportunity to tell people what you do, why you do it, and why they should care—clearly!
Use appropriate language. Knowing that your title, abstract and public health relevance statements will be public if your grant application is funded means that you should consider more than just reviewers when writing them. Clear, succinct language is appreciated by everyone, reviewers included. That being said, writing clearly and succinctly without compromising the science is a challenge. It is easy to lapse into familiar scientific jargon or to "utilize" elaborate words in an effort to make your writing more technical. On the other hand, it is often difficult to strike the balance between being too scientific and too colloquial because colloquialisms can lead to misinterpretations of the research value. Nonetheless, a great idea told in a way that an educated audience can understand will speak for itself. At NIH, reviewers are being notified to expect plain language in these sections of your application. You have the rest of the application to describe the technical details of your project.
Communicate the bigger picture. State what you propose to do, why it is important, and explain the potential impact on what your sponsor cares about. For NIH, this is the impact on public health. For any sponsor, ensure your proposal is connected to the larger mission of the organization or program you are applying to.
Just what is "plain language" and how does it help? Plain language is direct, correct and uncomplicated communication. It is not dumbed-down or condescending. It is what an intelligent reader, who may not be steeped in your particular discipline, can easily understand. It helps your sponsor make the case to Congress and the public that your research has value and federal dollars are wisely invested.
NIH provides some helpful before and after examples of plain language in proposal abstracts at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/plain_language_examples.htm . It is well worth your time to digest these, especially if you are part of an NIH application, although the concepts may be applied to most applications.