Even More grant advice... tables & figs

Nov 26 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the things I have always maintained is that one reason old people get less done is not exhaustion, although that happens. It is that vision starts to go to hell in a handbasket. Can you say presbyopia? Reading glasses? argh.

So... my young followers, do not make small tables with 6pt font. I cannot read them. I will resent having  to work extra hard, and strain my eyes to see your table/figure because you are so hell bent on packing stuff into your proposal that there is no room for this critical figure except to be read with a magnifying device (be it analog and handheld, or digital on the computer). Let me add that the worst is when I blow up your figure on my computer and it looks like it was done with crayons.

One guideline for using figures is when the words it takes to explain the image take up more space than the image. Sometimes you need the raw data to prove you can do it. But sometimes you can describe a figure, succinctly and you are wasting space with it. Some diagrams help explain the design, the equipment, a particular relationship. But lots of time they don't. Get someone else to look at those beloved babies of yours and give you some honest feedback.

I've never ever seen a Specific Aims that was improved by including a figure. It may exist. It may be your proposal. But what does need to be in the SA is sufficiently dense and important, that taking the space for a figure, a graph or a table on that page usually is not a good idea. And for heaven's sake, do not put in a quasi-table of definitions. There should not be 10 or even 5 things you need to define in your SA's. If there is one use a clause such as: Bunny Transfiguration, a developmental change that occurs at 6 months of age, turns tadpole bunnies into fully hopping creatures.

3 responses so far

  • Microscientist says:

    I would be curious to hear your take on cartoon diagrams of experimental design. Many journals are now including these as graphical abstracts. I think they CAN be very helpful, and save a lot of space if done correctly. But based on your above statement sounds like you would not be a fan. I'm interested in your take on these.

    • potnia theron says:

      They can be helpful. They can be space-saving. They can summarize. Personally, I see stuff better that way. But, its all in the execution. I am still not sure that it would belong on the SA page, though. As I have said before, page limits are your friends: they tell you how much you need to include. SA is one page for a reason (they used to be more, back in the olden dayes): this is the amount of info that needs to be here.

  • Ola says:

    Agree, apart from the SA page bit. I've always included a cartoon/schematic on the first page for several reasons. It's a good way to help the reviewer see how the aims relate to one another and that this is really "one project" and not a bunch of unconnected stuff. It also helps to set themes such as color, which will then reoccur throughout the proposal - for example a particular protein/enzyme always being depicted in one color, so when they see it again later on there's a tinge of "I recognize that". If using different model systems (cells vs. whole animals vs. different species) it can also help to outline which experiments will be done in which system, again helping the reviewer to see why aim 3 is relevant despite using C. elegans? Another key point... for most figures in a grant I normally allow at least 70-100% of the size of the figure again just for the legend (few things piss me off more as a reviewer than shitty legends requiring me to hunt for things in the supporting text). But a properly done schematic on the first page can be legend-free, so it really doesn't take up that much space. If you're listing the aims as bulleted points which don't occupy the full line-width, leaving plenty of space for reviewer scribbles (wide margins!!!) then there's usually room over on the right side of the page for a quick schema.

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