Friday, May 11, 2012

Need advice on cutting your proposal to meet page limits?

This is a repost from a while back, but with the June NIH deadlines fast approaching, it is definitely worth a read.  Before you start cutting important pieces from your R01 proposal or shoving R03 information in an Appendix (which is not allowed), take a look at this advice. 

Are you struggling to cut from 7 pages down to 6? Have you read your research plan 10 times, trying desperately to figure out how and where to cut? Don't panic. Take a deep breath, minimize your Word document on your screen, and trying goofing off for 5 minutes. (Yes, I am suggesting that you procrastinate in order to get your work done!)
First, what not to do. Do not start to think you are a Microsoft Word Master of the Universe. Any trick you can think of- shrinking margins to 0.495, shrinking text to 10.9, decreasing spacing so that lines are almost on top of each other- has already been tried and denied. Second, do not start deleting important pieces of your application just to save space. Third, and perhaps most important, do not start cutting from your research plan and trying to put the text in your Resources section or Appendix. (NIH recently announced that they are cracking down on this practice too.)

So, what's an aspiring scientist to do? Fortunately, there are methods of shortening your research strategy section that do follow NIH rules. Here are some options:
  1. Tables and Charts are your friend. There are no text size requirements for tables and charts, as long as they are clear and legible. Have a long list of information? Try turning it into a table to save some space.

  2. Check your text wrapping on tables, charts, and images. In many cases you can wrap text to one side or another of a graphic and create more space. Just remember to keep your image/table/chart together with the paragraph that references it. It will make it easier for reviewers to follow.
  3. Using Track Changes and a thesaurus, attack your document from an editor's perspective. Rather than looking for content to remove, look for places where you may have a description that is very wordy, or may be able to convey the same message using shorter words or phrases.
If all else fails, talk to a seasoned proposal assistant or research administrator at your institution. An experienced person may be able to take a look and offer more advice on cutting. Don't have one? Email me at grantpwriter "AT" (replace with @) and we can see if there is a way for me to help.

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