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A Grant Proposal- (and Review-) Writing Roundup

Submitting grant proposals — and even reviewing them — can be daunting. Between administrative requirements and regulations, tight deadlines, and actually doing the research, it can be a bit much. In order to make the processes of composing and reviewing grant proposals go more smoothly for all involved, several bloggers have recently offered up tips for scientists who seek to sharpen their writing skills. Prodigal Academic, who is "reviewing a bunch of proposals now" as part of a panel, suggests 10 grant-writing tips, which include using figures, headers, and — here's an idea — paragraphs, since a "wall'o'text is really hard to read through and maintain concentration for 80-plus pages."

Iddo Friedberg at Byte Size Biology recently posted his interpretation of a "grant-writing boot camp," which — although it was written in the interest of fun — speaks a great deal to the grant review process. In Friedberg's fictitious dialogue, an intimidating NIH "proposal sergeant" addresses his troop of grant applicants.

All kidding aside, there are some ways in which reviewers can improve the way they critique grants. For starters, Drug Monkey says, it's imperative to do away with "idiotic reviewer comments," which do nothing more than "[make] a grant applicant fixate on the deficiencies of NIH peer review." He says critiques that include "glaring mischaracterizations of the literature" and a "misunderstanding of the preliminary data presented" or a certain reviewer's "puzzling failure to internalize the essential points made repeatedly in bullet point or bold-face type throughout the application," all qualify as idiotic. Overall, he says, one reviewer's comments shouldn't do too much damage to one's proposal.

And Prof-like Substance offers advice for NSF grant applicants on what their proposal "ranking really means." As someone who has both written and reviewed NSF grants, he knows how "maddening or forgiving" the system can be. He says that, as a reviewer, it’s been tough to witness proposals sliding from a high-ranked category to a lower one. But on the flip side, he says, panel members "can only judge each proposal in the context of what else is on the table."