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Revising for your audience (Grant writing 4/7)

ScientificReview

Welcome back to my blog post series on grant writing. I am using the writing process to provide an easy, structured approach to grant writing.  As I’ve mentioned, grant writing isn’t hard: it’s damn hard! If you hold any kind of academic appointment you’re eventually going to have to figure out a good process for grant writing.

This the 4th post in a series of 7, I will be posting a serialized manual on the grant writing process.

Now, on to Step 4: Revising.

Tailoring your content

The third step of the writing process is revising. Now is the time we expand our draft into appropriate paragraphs that fit the grant application’s criteria.

If drafting your grant involves collecting and structuring information, revising your grant involves tailoring that structured information to persuade your audience. Ask yourself, who are my reviewers? How are reviewers engaging with my writing? How can I enhance my reviewer’s experience?

Who are your reviewers?

In Canada, our national health research funding body, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), recommend revising your work with the reviewer in mind. Often, grant reviewers are volunteers who are taking time from other work to assess your project. As mentioned, you can’t assume your reviewer is an expert in your area; although they may be experts in your area, you must write your grant in such a way that any reviewer can understand your project.

How are reviewers engaging with my writing?

One CIHR reviewer told me, “When I’m reviewing grants, it’s Sunday morning and I’ve got about 2 hours to read through hundreds of pages. My advice is to make it as easy as possible for me to understand your work.” Write concise sentences with precise language that avoids jargon and acronyms. Of course, specialty terms will be used in your grant, but ensure you are defining this terminology.

How can I enhance my reviewer’s experience?

The structure of a newspaper article can be a helpful metaphor for the ‘flow’ of a research grant. Like any good journalist, you must get to the point early, employ illustrations to clarify key points, and conclude with a summary to remind your reviewer about the key points.

Leave your thoughts

Q1 What tips work for you with regards to readability?

Q2 Have you been a reviewer before? Share an experience you’ve had.

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Drafting your grant to highlight its unique selling points (Grant writing 3/7)

Drafting

Welcome back to my blog post series on grant writing. I am using the writing process to provide an easy, structured approach to grant writing.  As I’ve mentioned, grant writing isn’t hard: it’s damn hard! If you hold any kind of academic appointment you’re eventually going to have to figure out a good process for grant writing.

This the 3rd post in a series of 7, I will be posting a serialized manual on the grant writing process.

Now, on to Step 2: Drafting.

Unique selling points

The second step of the writing process is drafting. We’ve made some type of map or outline and now we really begin to write.

Drafting your grant involves more than putting words on paper. Draft your grant according to the unique selling points (USPs) your work has to offer. Unique selling points come from the world of advertising and consist of three parts:

  1. A USP must make a proposition to its audience (“buy this product for this specific benefit”)
  2. A USP must make a proposition that the competition cannot offer (“buy this product because it is one-of-a-kind”)
  3. A USP must make a proposition that is attractive to a general audience (“buy this product because you can understand what it does”)

In research, USPs operate around a philosophy of being relevant to a general audience because you have no way to predict your reviewers’ disciplinary alignment. Even if you’re applying for specialty funding (e.g., The Kidney Foundation of Canada) you have no way to predict whether or not your reviewers are molecular biologists studying nephrons or health services researchers studying organ transplant allocation patterns.

Prevalence, population, significance, cost and innovation

A useful heuristic I am borrowing from my colleague Alex Clark involves writing your health research grants around 5 USPs:

  1. Prevalence (“the topic of this grant offers a past, present and future I understand”)
  2. Population (“the topic of this grant offers a clear benefit to a vulnerable or neglected population”)
  3. Significance (“the topic of this grant offers positive outcomes for individuals, our health system and society”)
  4. Cost (“the topic of this grant offers cost reduction to our health system”)
  5. Innovation (“the topic of this grant offers a transferable innovation that will proceed from the project”)

Drafting a grant should follow whatever framework for a proposal is set out by the opportunity’s guidelines. Often this framework takes the form of preamble, introduction, methods, plan of study, team roles, and budget. So important is this framework that it will be the focus of my next blog post.

Leave your thoughts

Q1 What are the unique selling points of your research?

Q2 What’s your approach to drafting a research grant? Does the above approach resonate?

Other Resources

Alex Clark is a brilliant researcher and well-established grant writer. Consider following him on Twitter.

A five-step approach including some useful heuristics for drafting writing.

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9 Tips on How to NOT get your paper published

McMaster UniveGeoff Normanrsity’s Professor Geoff Norman is a prominent figure in the Medical Education/Health Professions Education community. Along with co-authoring one of the most popular handbooks in Biostatistics, Norman is also a long-time editor for the Advance in Health Sciences Education journal.

In his journal’s most recent issue Norman offers up some tips on how to not get your paper published. I’ve highlighted my favourites–sound advice for academics and graduate students alike:

  1. Support your problem statement with the best available evidence (“Nice ideas finish last”)
    • Your paper must provide sufficient theoretical and empirical justification for why its problem statement is an important one.
  2. Conduct a thorough literature review early (“The world doesn’t need another mousetrap”)
    • Before beginning your study, ensure the same work has not been conducted before. If it has, ensure your problem statement and study design sufficiently expand past findings.
  3. Ensure data are consistent with the journal’s/disciplines expectations (“We don’t really care if your students loved the course”)
    • Norman reminds us that studies involving self-assessment as data are consistently uncorrelated with performance measures. (Eva and Regehr 2005)  While another journal may publish self-assessment data, Norman begs authors to consider whether their data is appropriate for journal/disciplinary conventions before submitting their manuscripts.
  4. Ask whether your findings are applicable in another context (“We are scientists, not inventors”)
    • In studies where a costly simulation device or complex intervention is designed, Norman warns authors not to presume that their findings should be of interest to a wider audience–taking special care when the research is aligned with an commercial interests (e.g., a device manufacturer)
  5. Ask whether your findings are interesting in another context (“The only people who care about education of pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga are pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga”)
    • Norman reminds us to think about an international audience for our work. It is incumbent on authors to figure out why researchers in different countries will care about their work.
  6. Disclose other venues in which your study has been published (“Salami slicing belongs in butcher shops”)
    • Salami slicing is the colloquial term for publishing the same study in multiple journals. While Norman admits that this is sometimes an appropriate practice, he reminds researchers to avoid self-plagiarism by writing the second study de novo rather than cutting and pasting swathes of text.
  7. Represent quantitative value with appropriate detail (“P values tell you whether it’s zero but little else”)
    • While a research team’s findings may be statistically significant, simply displaying an appropriate P value is insufficient. Norman reminds authors to include standard deviations, confidence intervals and effect sizes, best represented by good figures and graphs.
  8. Leave room for future research (“More research is always required”)
    • Avoid overstating the universal applicability of your results. Be specific about other research questions that remain to be answered in your work.

Leave your thoughts

What do you think? Am I missing anything obvious? Do you find the advice pedantic? I’d love to read your commends below.

 

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