| How would you like to improve
you priority score by 50 to 100 points or more?? The following commentary
is based on factors totally unrelated to the science of your proposal
but which will definitely cause your priority score to deteriorate unless
you pay heed to the items listed. Ignore them if you like, but it will
still impact (negatively) on your priority score.
NOTE: ALL WORD PROCESSORS COME WITH SPELL CHECKERS. USE THEM!!! POOR GRAMMAR
AND MIS-SPELLED WORDS INDICATE A SLOPPY PROPOSAL AND POSSIBLY SLOPPY WORK
DURING THE INVESTIGATION.
1) While there is a space limitation, be reasonable in attempting to
squeeze in as much information as possible. As an example, don't use
8 pt or even 10 pt proportional fonts and run tight to the margin limitations.
Instead, reword the abstract and try to use 12 pt proportional type.
It is more important that the abstract be readable and have a good general
description which agrees with the body of the proposal rather than have
every last, detailed fact included.
2) Try to avoid using first person pronouns. Instead of saying "I
(we) will measure the efficacy of ..." try rewording the sentence
structure to read "The investigator(s) will measure the efficacy
of ...". The above two comments apply to the body of the grant
3) It doesn't hurt to restate, in shortened format - if possible, the
specific aims or objectives of the project in the abstract even though
you will be stating them in the body of the proposal.
Numerous problems occur with grant budgets with the predominate feature:
lack of justification in both the budget justification pages AS WELL
AS in the body of the grant. Remember, the budget justification can
be carried over on to continuation pages and does not count towards
the page limitations in the body of the grant
If a person is listed under the personnel section of the budget then
you should devote at least 2-3 sentences telling why this individual's
time commitment is absolutely essential. Don't bother to include administrative
assistants or secretaries since these persons will probably be automatically
rejected by the reviewers unless there are highly extenuating circumstances.
If a person is listed as an investigator then (s)he must have a BIOGRAPHICAL
SKETCH using the NIH format in the proposal. As an example of a poor
justification: "Dr. Johnson will analyze all data associated with
the investigation." A better justification might read: "Dr.
Johnson (10% effort requested) will be directly responsible for statistical
analyses of data collected in experiments 1-3 which are directly tied
to specific aims 3 & 4. Dr. Johnson will also be responsible for
writing all progress reports and supervising the laboratory technician."
The second example clearly ties the investigator and the technician
into key aspects of the investigation.
1) Be sure that there is a letter from each consultant on letterhead
stationary agreeing to specifically participate in your project. The
project title should be directly mentioned in the letter. It also helps
to include a Biographical Sketch of the consultant even though this
is not required in some types of proposals. By adding the Biographical
Sketch you will provide the reviewer with the better information as
to why this person is qualified as a consultant on this project.
2) Justify the consultants. Why do you need 100 hours of the consultant's
time - why not 50 hours? What is the basis for estimating this time
commitment? Will the consultant be used in all years of the project
3) Generally investigators from the same institution cannot be paid
as consultants (i.e., extra salary compensation) for investigations
originating from the same institution.
This is an area which is typically poorly addressed in most proposals.
The equipment request must be seen as clearly needed for this investigation
and essential for the conduct of the investigation. Forget office equipment.
If you want a computer, which is a reasonable request, don't ask for
a $15,000-$20,000 workstation if all you are doing in the body of the
scientific investigation is occasional word processing or plotting data
once in awhile. Remember that the resources section should list what
you currently have for equipment which is directly relevant to the proposal.
Therefore, why do you need a new computer, spectrophotometer, etc. when
you clearly have access to one otherwise how did you type the proposal
or obtain the preliminary data? Why do you need that $6,000 computer
with 64 mB of RAM, 2 GB hard drive and 200 MHZ PentimumPro. processor
when you don't clearly demonstrate in the body of the grant that you
will be handling anything more significant than typing a few papers
and plotting a few graphs. Similar comments apply to printers and other
equipment. A good approximation is: what would you make your son or
daughter provide you with information before you would give them that
amount of money?
Requested supplies should be broken into categories and justified both
in the justification page(s) as well as by description within the body
of the proposal. Be sure that the numbers in the budget request agree
with what's in the body of the proposal. For example:
120 rats @ $15.60 ea. = $1872
Animal housing (120@$0.60/day*50 days)=$3600.00
Amount Requested = $5472.00
Justification: "120 Fischer 344 male rats from Harlan-Sprague
Dawley, Fredericksburg, MD (purchase price 100-125 g = $13.50 ea. plus
insurance and shipping @ $2.10/rat = $15.60 ea.). These animals will
be used for specific aims 1,2,3-6 with 60 experimental and 25 controls
and 5 for health status assessment. Estimated, average stay in animal
facility is 50 days (range from 2-15 weeks - make sure these times agree
with the time frames specified in the experimental design of the proposal)".
In general, you don't need to break the categories down to anything
less than $1,000-$500. Just listing a bulk-figure request leaves you
wide open for suggested budget cuts by the reviewers.
Do not bother to request funds for multiple investigators to attend
national meetings. You will automatically be reduced to $1,200 for one
investigator for one year. Local travel must be justified by indicating
the mileage, trips and average costs for meals and motels in the area.
Requesting highly inflated figures will probably result in the reviewers
removing more than you want. Travel overseas as well as local travel
should be clearly demonstrated as essential to the specific aims of
the project. Why can't this investigation be carried out locally, i.e.,
Do not bother to include requests for telephones/FAX unless, in the
body of the proposal, you clearly show that you will be performing extensive
telephone interviews, transferal of data between multiple sites, etc.
Costs for publication charges should be kept within reason based on
your past publication rate and journal charges. What is the justification
for publication charges during the first year if it will take you most
of the year to get everything running and generate reliable data? If
you request funds for maintenance contracts then it should be clear
exactly what proportion of the maintenance contract is dedicated to
this project. In other words, if the GC mass spec will only be used
for 10% of the time for this project don't try to obtain 50 or 100%
of the maintenance contract.
The same degree of justification as used for the main budget should
apply here. Do not bother to include travel for investigators to national
meetings in the subcontract since it may generally be recommended for
removal by the reviewers.
The NIH format used for the Biographical Sketch is standardized and
commonly used by many granting agencies. Be sure to list year degrees
were granted. Reviewers tend to pay little attention to conference proceedings,
attendance at meetings. The greatest weight is applied to refereed journal
publications that have BEEN PUBLISHED or are IN PRESS in good quality
publications which are directly related to the proposed research. If
you claim 150 papers then you should certainly provide a list of more
than 10 refereed papers in recent years. Papers in recent years (general
rule of thumb, within the past 5 years) even when not relevant to the
investigation are important to list to clearly demonstrate productivity
and the willingness to get results into print.
It is essential that you list other support for all existing and pending
grants and contracts. In many cases reviewers may be aware of your participation
in a project (because a co-investigator may have submitted a project
which has wound up in the same study section for review). It then becomes
highly suspicious when an investigator is near or over 100% commitment
to existing and pending grants and "forgets to list a few".
Be sure that you address issues of scientific or budgetary overlap,
specially if you are showing a potential for greater than 100% commitment
if you should be so lucky as to have all your projects completely funded.
It is rare that an investigator's resources are found to be inadequate
for the conduct of the investigation but it does happen. List all equipment
that is available which will be essential for the conduct of the proposed
investigation. You may wish to further indicate availability such that
it supports equipment requested in the budget. For example: "Beckman
XXX UV-Vis spectrophotometer is available on a temporary basis. However,
it is committed to projects OH00341 & ES00952 - see Other Support
pages - and will not be available for the time necessary for this project
except in emergencies." It is not necessary to list every piece
of glassware, thermometer or chemical available in your lab.
BODY OF THE GRANT:
All grants must start from a set of fundamental research objectives
that represent a new, scientifically sound investigation. The following
are some general do's and don'ts.
1) There is a page limitation on most grant proposals. Do not try to
push the page limit by:
a) using appendices to extend your proposal;
b) using small, proportionally-spaced type, single spaced with imbedded
graphics and the text at the limit of the margins and graphics or tables.
Appendices should be used to attach papers that are not yet published
or papers that are in somewhat unavailable journals. Including additional
data, graphs, descriptive test, etc. gives the appearance of attempting
to by-pass the limit. Reviewers may choose to legitimately ignore appendices
taking the tack: if it isn't in the body of the proposal, it doesn't
exist. All reviewers are human (strange as it may seem) and find it
very irritating when a proposal attempts to squeeze in too much text
in the page limitation. As a result, your priority score may suffer.
You are far better off using a more comfortable to read 12 point font
with indented paragraphs.
2) Not all grants get funded upon first submission. If you decide to
resubmit a proposal it is absolutely essential that you provide a discussion
of each point raised in the "Pink" sheets. Any changes in
the resubmitted project should be either bold-faced, underlined, or
italicized or set off from the surrounding text in a clearly delineated
fashion. It is best to list each point, accept/reject the recommendation
and discuss why and indicate where appropriate changes have been made
in the proposal. The importance of this aspect cannot be adequately
emphasized! You would be astounded at how many proposals are resubmitted
without even acknowledgment of the previous review.
3) Clearly state the goals, objectives, and hypotheses at the earliest
possible point in the proposal. It doesn't hurt to highlight them (i.e.,
bold-face, italics, etc.). Then be sure to show how the methods will
be linked to obtaining data related directly to the specific objectives.
4) All measurements typically involve variability. Whether these are
measurements of exposure to Polycylic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or personal
questionnaires assessing individual perceptions of an event or activity.
As a result, one of the weakest sections of most proposals is the statistical
experimental design to assure adequate number of samples will be evaluated.
While it is difficult to predict the exact number of experiments needed
in an investigation where the results of the first series of experiments
will determine which or what experiments will follow it is essential
to estimate the overall numbers of measures to be made. This is vital
for justifying the time line of the investigation as well as demonstrating
to the reviewer that you are clearly aware of the extent and problems
of the experiments to be undertaken. Do not assume that because you
have had a statistics course and have a statistical software package
on your computer that you have either an adequate statistical experimental
design or have determined the correct statistical procedures for evaluation
of your data. The following is obvious but suprisingly common: if you
have a statistician on the proposal as a consultant or co-investigator
be sure (s)he reads the grant before it is submitted.
5) Clearly show a time line. It is best if you can, in the body of
the proposal, indicate which experiments would be made during which
months/years of the investigation and then summarize these with a table
or bar diagram showing the time line referenced to the specific goals.
6) Be as logical and "linear" in the presentation of your
specific aims, goals, hypotheses and the methods necessary to provide
the data needed to meet the aims and the anticipated results. Reviewers
tend to downgrade a potentially good idea if the investigator(s) fail
to provide a logical sequence of events; proposals which are presented
as a random order of events or procedures typically receive much worse
scores than proposals which are clear how and WHY the investigators
are going from step A to step B to step C.
7) If you are going to work with hazardous materials or procedures
it is essential to discuss how you will protect yourself and your personnel.
This specific area can directly result in a non-fundable priority score.
Of the many pitfalls in writing a grant another major one is the failure
to adequately address the involvement of human subjects and a correlated
one is related to adequately addressing the distribution of minorities
and women in the project. Failure to address this specific topic will
automatically eliminate any possibility of funding regardless of how
outstanding the research and grant proposal may be! If you are even
going to talk to a human subject you must undergo IRB approval. If you
are going to just look at data and there is even the remotest chance
that a specific individual can be accidentally identified within the
data set you must have IRB approval. If you are developing a exposure
sampling methodology and plan to field test it by having the device
worn by a worker you must have IRB approval. If you are in doubt, seek
IRB approval just in case. Assuming that you have human subjects then
you must deal with the issues of recruiting women and minorities into
the study section. It is not adequate to state that "no individual
will be discouraged from participation in this study based on race or
sex". You must estimate the number of potential males and females
within the study population as well as the number or percentages of
individuals in the various racial groups. Obviously there is very little
that can be done to recruit Afro-Americans in a study of workers in
china. Nor is it appropriate to attempt to recruit women into an epidemiological
study on prostate cancer. However, you must still state the percentages
and then state the obvious (i.e., who you are going to recruit, why