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Clare Rathbone, a memory researcher at Oxford Brookes, recently sent me the following Unsolicited Advice article by Julianne Dalcanton on how to navigate the early stages of writing a grant proposal:

Discover Magazine Blog:

In the blog, Dalcanton suggests a method for a) overcoming the scary blank-page and b) vetting grant proposal ideas at the earliest possible stage. as follows:

…I start a stupid ASCII file with two sections:

  1. Selling Points
  2. Potential Weaknesses to Shore Up

I then start filling out each with short bullet points listing every possible argument for or against what I’m proposing.

Dalcanton suggests working on this ascii file for half a day or so and then doing something that would never have crossed my mind – sending it to the experts and collaborators from whom you might normally solicit feedback at a much later stage.

Get their feedback about what they think the strongest selling points are, what their additional concerns are, and what arguments they would use to shore up weaknesses. Expand the file accordingly, so you have a record of everything that you think needs to go into the proposal. You’ll probably find that it’s a huge time savings to get this to your collaborators in this form, before you have a 10 page latex file with embedded figures.

This is brilliant. You seek feedback on the core idea, so you don’t have to write proposals that simply won’t appeal to reviewers. Now it’s obvious that this is what I should be trying to do with grant proposal ideas anyway, but the ascii file provides a way of seeking peer-review at this early stage and overcoming the myopic optimism can all to easily cloud judgement and drive a great deal of personal investment in an idea that simply won’t fly.