Your Grant in Review: Question for the Masses about Significance and Innovation Sections

Feb 05 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

When the style of grant application changed to include these sections, along with shorter proposals, I remember being told (by grant writing experts) and being successful with these sections being on the order of .5 to .75 pages each (for a total less than 1.5 pages). This was especially true for the 6-pagers (R21s, R03s, research design parts of K-awards). Even though I've written on these sections in the past here and here I did not pontificate on page length for these sections.

In the grants I'm reviewing, people have taken 3-4 pages of a 6 page grant to do Sig & Innov. Is there something I'm missing here? I think they have stinted Research Design (and can make very specific critiques and questions about what I perceive is missing). But... Open I am to mistakes.

I have always thought that if you can't do the significance in a para or three you are belaboring the obvious. If Innovation is that innovative, it can be pointed out in a few sentences.

Please: your thoughts?




7 responses so far

  • Mikka says:

    Do they use significance for the background? After all, it used to be "background and significance", and it's really hard to convey significance without laying out the background. Sometimes, depending on the focus of the grant, you just need to put a literature review somewhere, for instance if you are highlighting "gaps in knowledge" or "critical barriers".

  • Crystaldoc says:

    Short and concise is best for innovation, even a list of bullet points here can be quite effective, but I think different approaches can work for significance. For some grants significance may be more or less self-explanatory and a paragraph may do, but I agree with Mikka that many grants need more literature review and background, which can fit well into this section. The newest instructions under the "enhancing reproducibility" push are now specifying that significance should explicitly cover scientific premise, including "consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of published research or preliminary data crucial to the support of your application". As well, many grants include preliminary data from the applicant that support the overarching hypothesis, form the foundation for research questions, or otherwise are relevant to all aims, and these data can often be effectively incorporated into the Significance section. I agree that 3-4 pages would be overkill for a 6-page app; I would probably not want to exceed 1.5-2 p for Significance and 0.5 p for Innovation. But in a 12 p application, I think it is not unreasonable to run to 3-4 p or so. A long Significance section does create the risk though that key points will become lost among details; you have to do a careful job crafting this section and make judicious use of bold or italic fonts, etc.

  • lurker says:

    Grant gurus have been telling me to polish to "perfection" the Significance section, more so than any other part of the proposal. They would toil a good whole week to arrive at the magic 2 page mark sans figs, just enough background but also punchy so that it grabs the reviewer in the 30min max time of reading.

    A good Sig section has to teach the reviewer what the biological problem is, convince the reviewer why s/he should care, why your lab has the power to solve the problem, and what transformative new paradigms will result from you getting the money to do such research.

    As the first section of the Research Strategy, where bulk of score spreading is done, losing the reviewer on this section means your grant is cooked. Biggest lesson I learned as a noob-ass-prof.

  • Crystaldoc says:

    Yes, 2 pages minus the figures sounds about right for significance for an R01, but you will want some figures; not 2 pages of wall-of-text. Even if you have published your crucial preliminary data, you should not break the reviewer's stride and tell them to go look up your data; you need to put it in. But, I'm pretty sure I have also seen a few successful exceptions where the significance was more like a few paragraphs, for grants where the rationale and clear translational significance were simple and pretty obvious.

    • potnia theron says:

      This is just totally contrary to my experience in reviewing. The best ones were only one page of sig/innov combined.

  • iGrrrl says:

    When they went to the new format in 2010, removing Background and Preliminary data, Our approach was to have 1 page for Significance and Innovation together, with the relevant literature and preliminary data for each aim within the discussion of that aim. Now, however, this scientific premise instruction is under the Significance review criterion, indicating that the consideration of strengths and weaknesses of the prior literature be done under Significance. Preliminary data in support of the premise could be included there as well. Preliminary dat in support of feasibility of technique can be put with the research strategy.

  • Ola says:

    I agree on keeping it short, and bullet points are your friend not just in this section of the grant either - they're also useful for summing up the key points of the prelim' data before moving on to the expt. plan.
    As a reviewer, I always tend to look for something about translational relevance in the sig' section - after all this is the national institutes of HEALTH, so how is your work going to benefit people with diseases that the NIH was established to serve. If there's nothing, then you'd damn well better explain how this work is gonna advance the field, fill gaps in knowledge etc.

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