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Make it Exciting...?

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HI All,

Just received some feedback from my advisor on a grant proposal. Main comments: it's good, make it more exciting...which is exactly what I thought I did....So, just curious, how do you make your grant proposals "exciting?" I tried really hard to balance making big claims with the evidence I actually have....should I just go for broke and make some huge claims? Could this be more of a style problem? I went for the intro hook method...and I modeled my own proposal after others (successful) for the same grant....so I am not sure where to go from here. 



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It's really impossible for anyone to help you without seeing the application; or at least knowing such details as your field, what you're applying to, and the selection criteria. My guess is that it's not about your writing style but about the content. The hook intro is not what's going to get you the grant. Instead, the relevant question is "why fund this application and not the others?". So, what makes your research more interesting and important than the other proposals? Why should we care about your research? What would the findings teach us, in an ideal world where everything you propose succeeds as planned? What greater questions does it contribute to, solve, or make us able to ask? That's what would make your results exciting, and would make a selection committee want to choose your proposal over others. This isn't about "making huge claims", especially if they are unsubstantiated, but about situating your research in the bigger picture and showing why it matters. 

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Apologies! I am in history. It's a grant to conduct pre-dissertation summer research. It will allow me to spend about 8 weeks overseas. That is helpful though. The feedback was literally "it's an exciting project, make this more exciting." I will give a read through with those questions in mind. 

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Writing grants is very tricky. It's a very different style than journal articles and initially, I had the same problem as you! I was writing way too conservatively and the majority of the first round of comments were in the vein of "your ideas are interesting and exciting, so make your writing match this!"

Here are some tips I keep in mind while writing proposals now:

1. As fuzzy said, the most important thing is to show the review committee how your proposed work sits with the current body of knowledge in the field, and what new ideas it will bring. Novelty is important and exciting (at least in my field). Emphasize why your work is different from previous approaches. 

2. In more mainstream academic writing (e.g. when I write journal articles), adjectives and adverbs are usually avoided or used very sparingly. In proposal writing, feel free to use more adjectives (to a reasonable extent). Adjectives can be useful in distinguishing your proposed work from current research and create emphasis on key points. 

3. Keep everything positive. Yes, you want your proposal to be accepted over other ones, but don't write things to imply that your work will be better than the other competitors (obvious, but just saying!). Also, when distinguishing your work with what previous researchers have done, do not write anything bad about the previous work! Your reviewer may be one of these researchers (or collaborate with one of these researchers). Where possible, frame your proposed improvements as additions to the previous work, rather than replacements.

e.g. "Using technique X, Smith et al. (2009) were able to find planets as cold as 2500 degrees and discovered [[important result A]]. With our new imaging technique, our proposed survey will find planets between 1500-2400 degrees, allowing for the first possible test of [[Hypothesis B]]."

(I've read proposals where the authors would write something more like "Smith et al. (2009) failed to find planets cooler than 2500 degrees, ... etc.")

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