Reviewer Blues

I got news for y’all. All that advice people give you about making grants easy on the tired reviewers eye. Live by every freaking word. Things I realize now that I’m on the ‘other’ side of the grant:

1. Yes,  11 point Arial really IS that small. Geez. I’m going to have to stop at the drugstore and get some of those 5$ glasses that magnify stuff.

2. I now totally understand the logic of not filling the pages solid with text and leaving breathing space between paragraphs. TOTALLY, totally get it. I feel like I have to go down the page with that fluorescent green ruler I keep on my desk so I can see which line to go to next.

3.  Avoid having 3 aims and 25 sub-aims under each aim. Confuses the pucky out of the reviewer. Sometimes less is more.

4. Flow charts. FLOW CHARTS. of the experiments. A nice thing, reviewers like them, make life easier.

5. Dump as much jargon as you can. If you don’t dump it, you better explain it.

6. One figure per page. I fear that this is going to go away when people go down to 12 pages… but I’m pleading with you … keep some figures in there, they are worth 1000 words and they break up the text.

7.  Use your published work as preliminary data, this is a strength. But don’t propose to do that work again unless you have a really good reason and can explain it.

8. An organized SRO is a god-send.

9. Write a conclusion to sum everything up at the end and provide a reminder why said work is innovative, insightful, incredibly brilliant (sarcasm, people), and what the hypothetical next step might be.

10.  Add your own!

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16 thoughts on “Reviewer Blues

  1. Write for reviewers who have a good grasp of your field, but who are not necessarily experts in your particular sub-field.

    Be sure to cite the relevant literature. And only the relevant literature.

    Spell out for the reviewers why you are the right person to do the proposed work.

    And to paraphrase DrDrA: White space good. Dense text bad.

  2. The problem with 11pt Arial typeface is not that it is too small–the letterforms are actually quite large. The problem is that it is a sans serif typeface, and is *way* too featureless to use for extended body text, especially in a single column format that is 8 inches wide. Helvetica (which Arial is a knockoff of) was designed as a display typeface–for titles, headlines, posters, signs, etc–not for extended text.

    The solution to this problem is to use 11pt Georgia for the body text of your grants. Your reviewers will not even know why, but they will find it substantially easier to read your grants.

  3. The Arial typeface is a leftover from when they were photocopying grants by hand. Trust me, those photocopy machines were so bad, the serifs actually bled into each other and were harder to read! Now that we have electronic submissions, another typeface better designed for long-flow reading would be a godsend.

    My addition

    11. No abbreviations! Trust me, your favorite abbreviation means something totally different to people in other fields who are reading your grants. It is incredibly difficult to read a grant where every sentence I have to remind myself that an abbreviation doesn’t mean what I’ve spent a decade learning that it means! If you’re that tight on space, rewrite.

  4. 11. No abbreviations! Trust me, your favorite abbreviation means something totally different to people in other fields who are reading your grants. It is incredibly difficult to read a grant where every sentence I have to remind myself that an abbreviation doesn’t mean what I’ve spent a decade learning that it means! If you’re that tight on space, rewrite.

    Amen on that one. I’ve had some good knockdown drag out arguments with my coauthors on the appropriate use of abbreviations. If the reader has to mentally translate your abbreviation into the full term, then you’ve saved page space but wasted mental space.

    My rule is thus: If you wouldn’t use the abbreviation in conversation with a member of your intended audience, then it doesn’t go in the manuscript, whether or not you have a little “abbreviations used” section. So, ATP is ATP. IS is not “internal solution”

    Sheesh, I can feel myself still getting worked up over this.

  5. Georgia! Good lord, Comrade OCD. What a hideous font! I much prefer a sans-serif with some reasonable spacing of paragraphs.

    I loathe the two column format. It’s fine if you print it out to read, but I hate scrolling up and down on a single page of a pdf.

  6. CPP, I’m with you on not using numbered citations- EXCEPT I just submitted an R21 with a six page limit. There was no way I could write out the citations. I would have lost 15-20% of my proposal.

  7. everyone has the same page limits Anonymous. You piss off the reviewers with your numbered citations at your peril….

  8. The numbered citations don’t bug me that much actually. I can see how it would be useful not to have to flip to the back of the packet to see the citation you want to look up though.

  9. I don’t mind numbered citations so much… AS LONG AS THEY ARE IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER! I cannot tell you how really unpleasant it is to try to figure out if someone knows the literature searching through 200 randomly ordered citations!

  10. I just checked out Georgian font…it is slightly easier on the eyes. thanks for the tip!

    also…I understand the #’d reference hate…but I admit to using them on my last 3 grants. eeps!

  11. Cambria (a transitional serif font) is another good option that was designed to be easier to read on-screen as well as in print.

  12. Thanks for the correction, CPP, very good to know. I was writing a non-NIH grant at the time.

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