Dealing with the 12 page NIH grant format

Mar 11 2010 Published by under Grant Review, Grantsmanship, NIH

Many of my readers will have already faced the joys of the shorter NIH Grant application. Briefly, the meat of the R01 proposal has now been reduced from 25 to 12 pages and the meat of the R21 from 15 pages to 6. As I observed when the Notice appeared, this is a challenge.
Since I am finally getting serious about trying to write one of these new format grants, I am thinking about how to maximize the information content. One thought that immediately strikes me is....cheat!


By which I mean taking sections that normally I would have put in the page-limited part of the grant and sneaking them in elsewhere. I have come up with the following and am looking for more tips and ideas from you, Dear Reader.
1) Moving the animal methods to the Vertebrate Animals section. I'm usually doing quite a bit of duplication of the Vertebrate Animals stuff in my General Methods subheading at the very end of the old Research Design section. I can move much of that, including possibly some research stuff that fits under point 4 (ensuring discomfort and distress is managed), to the Vertebrate Animals section.
2) Moving physical methods and maybe some Preliminary Data to the Facilities & Other Resources statement. This is supposed to:

Describe how the scientific environment in which the research will be done contributes to the probability of success (e.g., institutional support, physical resources, and intellectual rapport). In describing the scientific environment in which the work will be done, discuss ways in which the proposed studies will benefit from unique features of the scientific environment or subject poopulations or will employ useful collaborative arrangements.

or perhaps the Equipment statement:

List major items of equipment already available for this project and, if appropriate identify location and pertinent capabilities.

Pertinent capabilities? Ways in which the studies will benefit from unique features? Seems to me that this a potential window to not only describe physical equipment but also to slip in some data showing that this equipment is "pertinent" and that the studies proposed will "benefit".
AMIRITE?
Give me some more hot tips in the comments...

16 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    DM - Please don't encourage people to cheat their way out of 12 pages. Please tell them to write a 12-page grant.
    I would warn grant-writers to be careful of cheating too much. I was at a study section recently where someone lost about a point of score because one of the reviewers (it wasn't me, although I agree with the reviewer) complained about "cheating" by moving methods into the vertebrate animals section.
    As a reviewer, I like the shorter formats. I read the 12-page challenge grants and, recently, I've been reading some of the 6-page R21s. I am definitely not missing anything that wasn't in the 12-page R21s. It's just cleaner.
    As a grant-writer, I like 12 pages. It forces you to be clear, concise, and straight-forward. I really don't see what the whole problem is. I found that it was just as easy to write 12 pages with the same preliminary data as 25. What I left out was the detailed methods that are available elsewhere and cited papers for them. I suppose we'll see how well my last grant flies, but it didn't seem any harder to write 12 than 25 pages.

  • Orthogonal says:

    Sorry, not a suggestion but another question. Where are you putting your preliminary studies? Lumping together somewhere in the Significance or Approach, or distributing strategically?
    I just crammed 25 pages of an R01 into 12 for a revision, and the preliminary studies question was vexing.

  • qaz says:

    I put them in approach.
    As in: Approach = Background + Prelim studies + Plans.
    As in: here's what was known before us, here's what we've found, here's where we're going to go.

  • antipodean says:

    25 pages into 12?! eeekk!
    Write it in 9 pages, like we have to do, then the inevitable hang-over edits and add ons from your co-investigators will get you up to 12...

  • arrzey says:

    The trouble with sneaking stuff in other places is that there is no way you can be sure that reviewers 1 & 2 (let alone that nasty #3) will either find or read them there.

  • Orac says:

    Moving the animal methods to the Vertebrate Animals section. I'm usually doing quite a bit of duplication of the Vertebrate Animals stuff in my General Methods subheading at the very end of the old Research Design section. I can move much of that, including possibly some research stuff that fits under point 4 (ensuring discomfort and distress is managed), to the Vertebrate Animals section.

    This is more or less what I did for the new R01 submitted I submitted in February. In the actual grant limited to 12 pages, I simply described the experiments without going into a lot of detail; in the Vertebrate Animals section, I put all the statistical justifications for the number of animals used in each group and for each experiment (after all, they do tell you to justify species, strain, and number of animals used), as well as more detailed descriptions of drug doses, tumor inoculation for xenografts, etc.
    I don't consider it to have been "cheating," though because I think it entirely appropriate to have included the statistical justification for the number of animals used in the Vertebrate Animals section, and the grant was written such that a reviewer should be able to understand the experimental design without reading the Vertebrate Animals section.

  • Orac says:

    As a grant-writer, I like 12 pages. It forces you to be clear, concise, and straight-forward. I really don't see what the whole problem is. I found that it was just as easy to write 12 pages with the same preliminary data as 25. What I left out was the detailed methods that are available elsewhere and cited papers for them.

    That's all well and good if you've actually published your preliminary data. If you're writing a new grant where most of the preliminary data haven't been published yet, then you're S.O.L. Guess you have to wait until you've published that data. Woops! If I do that, all my other grants will be on the verge of running out and my lab would be in danger of shutting down.
    I did the best that I could, but I used only about half the number of figures that I used to use for an R01.

  • Lorax says:

    Its tough, but not going into detailed experimental methods helps a bunch. I was fairly sick of the bullshit statement in the critique from a reviewer like "didnt say how he was going to run the western blot." I basically squeezed my preliminary studies into the approach as a way to show I could do x, y, and z.
    I would argue the R01 is 13 pages not 12, because the specific aims page are not counted in the page length. šŸ™‚

  • Namnezia says:

    NSF grants are about the same length (15 pages), but this includes your summary and your "broader impacts", which means you are really left with about 12 for your proposal. Having written and reviewed several of these, and having also submitted the same grant to NIH and NSF, it always seems like the 12 page grants have a lot more "punch" and it is easier to get your point across, rather than losing it amongst the mind-numbing details of the 25 page proposal. Once you are in this mindset, it is much easier, I think to write short grants.

  • Joe says:

    I have read a lot of European and private agency grant proposals, most of which are very short (2-4 pages). I have NEVER thought they lacked for information. If you can't describe and justify what you want to do in 2 pages, then probably you're just futzing around in the lab on taxpayer money instead of actually accomplishing anything useful anyway.
    Hurrah! For the new 12 page limits.
    And congrats ahead of time to everyone out there actually willing and able to write a 12 page proposal. If all the other applicants are thinking like DM, the competition for the next year might be easy.

  • Dr. O says:

    Orthogonal: I just crammed 25 pages of an R01 into 12 for a revision, and the preliminary studies question was vexing.
    I haven't written an R01 myself, but I just edited a couple of R01's for faculty in our department. I found that using the preliminary data as part of the Rationale for each aim was very helpful: it kept the writers from talking about preliminary data that wasn't directly applicable to the proposed studies, dramatically shortening the grant. Plus, it made it easier for me, as somebody who wasn't intimate with the research, to digest.

  • Beaker says:

    I wrote a 13-pager last round. I agree with completely with the comments of qaz (#1 and #3 above). The new format is superior, cleaner. For figures, I had 1 into/overview/background cartoon in the Significance section, and then 1 or 2 data figures for each of the 3 aims.
    I decided to show less data that originally planned and instead I put in a bit more written experimental detail. I am hoping (SRA-permitting), to submit a 1-2 page supplementary data page just before the grant goes to the reviewers. This will include a concise taste of our latest, greatest preliminary data (one figure/aim). I don't consider this "cheating."

  • Physician Scientist says:

    As a reviewer, I skim the extraneaous stuff making sure that the applicant is not doing anything terrible to people or animals. I wouldn't try to sneak stuff in there. The reviewer might miss it and it could make them angry.

  • TeaHag says:

    http://funding.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/newsletters/2010/0217.htm#n02
    I'm thinking that if the NIAID funding newsletter is telling you not to do it.... it will be noticed!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Ok, Ok. You guys talked me down from the cliff... šŸ™‚

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