Just One Piece of Advice On Flow Charts

As you all know, I am currently buried under a large pile of grants. Again.

I love flow charts in grants- especially of the experimental plans. When they are well done they can say it all in just one self-explanatory image, making the angels sing and bringing rapture to tired reviewers. I would argue that a great flow chart, outlining the whole grant, is worth all the other 11.5 pages.

But the flip side, however,  is ugly. A badly done flow chart, one that causes reviewers to throw up their hands in despair necessitates the reviewers to completely re-design it in pen on the back of an adjacent page so that they can figure out what the hell the applicant meant – is not worth the paper it is written on. Don’t let this be your flow chart. Use this *important* tool wisely and clearly. In pursuit of a good flow chart- I’ll offer one important rule. Just one.

Take the flow chart of the experimental plan that you have slaved over for your grant- and show it to a few people on your floor who are relatively unfamiliar with your work. Do this early in the grant writing process. If they can figure out where you are starting, how the experiments flow, and what you will have at the end, WITH A BARE MINIMUM OF VERBAL EXPLANATION FROM YOU, then you have a winner. If, however, they scratch their head in confusion at all those intersecting arrows and boxes- do not pass go, go directly back to the drawing board and start again. The key is to outline the experimental plan in a simple form, so the reviewers can take one look at it and see clearly where your work is going.

And one more thing- not too many words on the flow chart.

Ok, I lied. That was two rules. In the advice giving arena I can’t help myself.

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5 thoughts on “Just One Piece of Advice On Flow Charts

  1. A badly done flow chart, one that causes reviewers to throw up their hands in despair necessitates the reviewers to completely re-design it in pen on the back of an adjacent page so that they can figure out what the hell the applicant meant – is not worth the paper it is written on.

    You are a much more solicitous reviewer than I am. If the applicant puts me in the position of having to “figure out what the hell the applicant meant”, then I move on and score accordingly.

  2. Ah, but Comrade, our doubledoc is still young and has not yet reached the combination of learned helplessness and sheer anger achieved by seeing hundreds of grants with bad flow charts and unreadable graphs and incalculable experimental designs. Give her her youth. Let her enjoy this time. She’ll be beaten down and cynical like the rest of us soon enough.

    🙂

    PS. It’s nice to see that Yun Gun still exists.
    (http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/10/08/study-section-act-ii/)

  3. hahaha, yeah, you are too nice doubledoc!

    Remember, if you have to go and crack another beer just to get through it…it is the applicant’s fault, not yours….

  4. What you are thinking about is probably Gantt charts for project scheduling rather than flow charts. You can role your own in Excel or there is really good software for complicated scheduling where you need to identify critical paths.

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