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Home No. 3: "Innovation" Section: What length is optimal?

Mar 28

No. 3: "Innovation" Section: What length is optimal?

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"Innovation" Section: What length is optimal?

Reader question: I’m seeing conflicting directions regarding the Innovation section of my application. NIH says it should be around two pages long, but some grant-winning PIs I’ve talked to said theirs were only a paragraph or two. Which is correct? How long should my Innovation section be to be effective during the review process?

Expert Comments: The answer depends on how elaborate you want to be and how much you actually need to include to get your point across. There's no hard and fast rule on how long the Innovation section should be.

Our company policy is to use as much room as you possibly can in this section. You’re not going to get marked down for writing two pages when the limit is two pages. I think you would be taking a larger risk writing less than you would writing more. That’s because reviewers want to know how your project will be more innovative than others. You have up to two pages to convince the reviewers of this, and you should use it. .

Obviously, funders don’t want to support the same type of proposal over and over. So they give you this part of the grant to show why your project is so innovative.

Every research project is going to be different. Therefore, there are no rules regarding what you should include in this section. .

As a rule of thumb, you should stick with the basics of who, what, when, where and why. One of the important things that often gets left behind is the how. Examine your project, and determine what is innovative about it. Whether it’s how you’re doing it, or why you’re doing it, these are the things you want to focus on and elaborate upon in this section.

If the limit is two pages, that's an “up to” amount. If you can explain how innovative your project is in fewer than two pages, and you feel that you’ve included all of the information you can, then that’s sufficient. If you take a look at the projects NIH has funded, the length of the Innovation sections vary.

Expert comments by Marissa Berg, quality control manager of Resource Associates, The Grant Experts of Farmington, N.M.

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Comments (2)
Science Writer/Editor
written by David Konkel, March 30, 2011
I'm not sure where the figure two pages for Innovation comes from; I believe that's actually for the Significance and Innovation sections combined. The 12 page Research Strategy section (or less for some mechanisms) is a zero sum game; what's used in sections 3a and b aren't available for c (Approach). Many people still think of (and write) Section 3a as if it were "Background and Significance," which is no longer appropriate. My own rule of thumb is about 1½ pages for Significance, and a half page for Innovation. With tight, well-edited writing, that's plenty to get your points across!
written by PhD Researcher (former "Business" professor), March 30, 2011
OK. Some of you pure scientists will think my background taints me, tho I'm now just as interestd in molecules as you. But you can benefit from a little cross-pollination. Your message can be worthy, but it still has to grab the attention of a harried grant reviewer. Ergo: if not beneath your dignity, you will have to consider the voluminous literature from marketing and advertising scholars (yes, there are such!) as to what grabs people's attention--and why.Length is probably the LEAST important variable. Content is king. But it must be fittd to an aspect of the item (your grant) you are "selling" (sorry to call a spade a spade.) Two extreme examples from ads-each wildly successful, and each inspired risking, and gaining $ millions. Short: "Coke is it". Long: "At 60 miles per hour, the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce is the ticking of its clock". So, , when you think about your Innovation section, do not dwell first upon length. That is a consequence, not a driver. Answer instead--in as much space as you succintly need--what the hell will your research do for the funder and the public. Maybe three words: "Cure cancer instantly?". Who wouldn't read that? Or maybe longggggg..... "Despite over 450 recorded attempts to turn corn oil dirctly into petroleum, there have been only marginal successes--until this promising lead turned up in our preliminary data. We want to push it to victory." Yeah, I know it's a bit dramatic, but if you were reviewing a stack of 25 applications, and your eyes were glazing over late at night, wouldn't you WELCOME the chance for a little excitement, a little hope of big reward for those people you represent? Maybe I'm not politicaly correct to say this, but all scientists are still human, and they respond to human emotional stimuli along with their "science" brains.

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