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Home PI eAlert Back Issues No. 53: What are some best tactics to use on the 'Intellectual Merit' section of an NSF grant application?

Nov 08

No. 53: What are some best tactics to use on the 'Intellectual Merit' section of an NSF grant application?

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Grants and Funding

What are some best tactics to use on the 'Intellectual Merit' section of an NSF grant application?

Reader Question: I'm writing a proposal for an NSF grant. The "intellectual merit" section seems to have very specific requirements and not much room to make a case. Can you offer me some tips or tactics?

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Expert Comments:

For Intellectual Merit, PIs should convey how important the research is in its context or field, but many of them are too vague as to the originality, creativity, and potentially transformative nature of the work they propose. Reviewers key in on these terms. They want to see these aspects of intellectual merit shine through.

For originality and creativity, one approach would be to summarize the current thinking in the field and ask yourself: How is my proposal new or different from others? Then convey that in specific terms in the application.

For example, perhaps it's well-known that scientists have been studying a certain metal because it has unusual properties they believe could have a beneficial application to society. But you see a different beneficial application and propose a different set of experiments to get there, or perhaps you propose a different way of achieving the original goal, and can give reasons why your methods have a greater chance of success.

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For the "potentially transformative research" part of the application, take the answer to the previous question and ask yourself how your work potentially changes the direction or challenges the conventional wisdom of the field. If your experiments with the metal succeed, it will prove that the previous line of thinking overlooked important factors.

While it's true that “potentially transformative” only means your work might change the field, it’s important to say what will happen if your findings do go in a direction that contradicts or sheds new light on the conventional, resolves a long-standing issue, or brings a brand-new new perspective.

Expert Comments: Dr. Michael Lesiecki, executive director of the Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center (MATEC), Phoenix. Dr. Lieskicki will conduct a live webinar Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. on "Building a Better NSF Proposal: Summary Page, Intellectual Merit, and Broader Impact." For details on how to join the conference or to order a CD, MP3, or PDF transcript, visit the conference webpage.

This eAlert is brought to you as an informational training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. Neither the eAlert nor its contents have any connection with the the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by this agency. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.

Comments (1)
neurology prof, maine
written by Dr mlt, November 05, 2010
writing these apps is a fine art. if you can cut and paste a statement you make about your project's intellectual merit into other parts of the application so that it fits right in, then you're way too vague. vague won't cut it. you have to tell them exactly how you're going to change the playing field and why you're the one to do it. if you don't or can't do that, don't waste your time and theirs...

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