GrantRant X

January 30, 2013

Open the grant you are polishing up right now, pronto, and change your reference style to Author-Date from that godawful numbered citation style. Then go on a slash and burn mission to make the length requirement. Because lets face it we all know your excuses about reading “flow” are bogus and you are just shoe horning in more text.


That numbered citation stuff is maddening to reviewers.


happy editing,

Uncle DM, Your Grant Fairy.


No Responses Yet to “GrantRant X”

  1. Dr24hours Says:

    Reviewers don’t check refs!


  2. Bill Hooker Says:

    Are you fucking insane? Grub that ridiculous name-dropping Author-Date bullshit out of your grant pronto! Switch to sensible numbered citations that let you read the text *and* locate individual cites easily when you want to see what someone is using a particular paper to argue for.

    Disclaimer: I’ve never been on a grant review panel; maybe everyone who does this goes crazy like DM and starts to prefer Author-Date.


  3. Dr24hours Says:

    No! Author date is WAY better. Don’t have to renumber when you make changes.


  4. Mike Says:

    Author-Date citations make papers SO much harder to read. I got so annoyed when my paper was rejected by a journal with numbered citations and ended up in one with Author-Date, because I envisioned people getting mad trying to read it and constantly being interrupted by citations. But this post reveals apparently some people like it.


  5. Pinko Punko Says:

    I would prefer author date, but that would cost me an entire page of the proposal. Also, NSF requires “results from prior NSF support” and if any of your co-PIs have had NSF support, and if they published 38 papers from that support, and that support was not relevant to the proposal, but still must be mentioned, we are talking a huge chunk of real estate.

    In prior review, I would have preferred author date for sure, but now I leave notes in margins in acrobat about which references to check. Author/date also only means something if the grant is directly in my field, if not, a number will suffice.


  6. qaz Says:

    I used to care about author-date citations. Now I find that since everything is online, it’s easy enough to keep two windows open and pop back and forth between windows. (In a lot of grants I seem to be reviewing, the cites are links, so I can just click on the number, see what it is, then jump back.) On the scale of grantwriting errors, this one no longer bothers me. I’m much more concerned about people not writing clearly.

    On the other hand, if you need to get rid of space by switching from author-year to numbers (or worse by shrinking the font-size), then you’re doing it wrong.


  7. Jeezus motherfucke, we dealt with this *years* ago. Anybody who is using numbered citations in their grants is pissing at least some reviewers off, and if you use (author, date) you are pissing no one off.

    The reason (author, date) is *much* better is as follows:

    (1) People familiar with your field will already recognize many of your citations by (author, date) and won’t have to go to the reference list AT ALL for those citations.

    (2) People less familiar with your field will go back to your reference list the first time or two a particular citation appears, and then won’t have return for that citation. But there is no fucken way they are going to remember what reference [13] refers to.

    Bottom line: Using (author, date) SAVES REVIEWERS ANNOYING EFFORT, while using numbered citations COSTS REVIEWERS ANNOYING EFFORT. And you’ve gotta be a fucken moron to knowingly annoy your reviewers.


  8. Don’t have to renumber when you make changes.

    For the love of motherfucken godde, are you really manually formatting and numbering your citations!!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?


  9. Ola Says:

    I use numbers, and reference the living sh!t out of my proposals (250+ on the most recent RO1). It’s not in the page limits, so why hold back? For important points I occasionally name the author in the text to make a point (xxxxx et al recently showed).

    On trick I did a couple years ago in an HHMI competition, in which refs were included in the page limit, was to use author name & PubMed ID, making the latter a hyperlink, then no refs at the end. I figured the reviewers would be reading it in PDF anyway, so they could just click the links. It didn’t work (unfunded), but I don’t know if this was the reason.


  10. eeke Says:

    I can’t stand the author-name refs. Fuck that. I have not once. Not ever seen a bitchy review about how the proposal was too hard to read because I used numbers for the fuckin refs instead of author-names. Why would you put so much weight on the reference formatting anyway? If the proposal is awesome, who cares?


  11. Not ever seen a bitchy review about how the proposal was too hard to read because I used numbers for the fuckin refs instead of author-names. Why would you put so much weight on the reference formatting anyway?

    If you think this has to do with consciously dinging someone for their reference style, you are very ignorant of how peer review works from the standpoint of human cognition.


  12. kevin. Says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but what Comradde said. If it was your first-author paper that you cite, it reminds them of what you did. If you’re a PI type, then it shouldn’t hurt anything. Plus, it will share the love with potential reviewers who like to see their name in print.

    The people who say that (author, year) references breaks up the text are the ones who put all their results (p value, degrees of freedom, power) and shit in the middle of every single fucking sentence. That shit makes things completely unreadable, not some goddamn reference.

    Also, for the love of all that is holy, use fucking Endnote, Zotero, Papers, or whatever.


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    Not ever seen a bitchy review about how the proposal was too hard to read

    This is an exceptionally stupid way to go about judging your own grant writing.


  14. I bet this dippeshitte uses Arial, too, because “If the proposal is awesome, who cares?”


  15. drugmonkey Says:

    I never bother working on my “Innovation” section. I mean, after reading that Innovation section in the funded sample grant over at the NIAID site that drops the mean IQ of the room by 10 points when read aloud…clearly it doesn’t matter.


  16. Spiny Norman Says:

    AUUUUGGGGHHH. Thanks for mentioning that, CPP.

    NIH format DEMANDS and REQUIRES shitstain typography. There is NO practical reason for 0.5 inch margins, and overly long line lengths, and overly tight leading. And Arial blows syphilitic goats.

    That is all.


  17. Dr Becca Says:

    I used numbered citations for my R21 (funded), but switched to author-date for my R01, whose score I’ll get in March/April. I do find it kind of hard to read author-date, but find it to be much smoother when it’s in another color like some journals now do. Has anyone done that in their grants?


  18. You are actually allowed to typeset your NIH grants in multi-column format, and they would be a *lot* more readable if set in two columns, like most scientific journals. The problem is that it’s a pain in the fucken ass to read a two column document on a small screen like a laptop.


  19. Former technician Says:

    Ok, you can all rant all you want, but there is an NIH EndNote Style. The style is not prefect in that it includes “et al” which NIH doesn’t like, BUT it was created using NIH preferences. Guess what… it is a numbered style!


  20. drugmonkey Says:

    Go ahead, leave points on the table if you wish….


  21. Pinko Punko Says:

    DM is just trolling here, because DM obviously thinks one way, and some things are subjective, so it is fine. Don’t get defensive. I arial the SHIT out of my proposals just for CPP, so he can say that he doesn’t care and that it is a POS and etc.

    But survey:

    1) Arial, numbers
    2) I think georgia- maybe TNR, author et al,date
    3) Arial, superscript numbers
    4) Arial, numbers
    5) Arial, numbers
    6) Arial, numbers
    7) Arial, author, date
    8) TNR, numbers

    I would prefer to use a different font, especially to make the grant stand apart, but Arial is so dominant in the look it is hard to break from.

    Just looked at my last NIH submission, 116 refs- switching from bracketed numbers to Cell style refs added ~30 lines of text. It wasn’t worth it. I do sometimes specifically talk about key work to highlight critical papers. And as I said above, in a special circumstance, having to add 50 extra reference to 120 that are naturally called for, this could be an entire page.

    I do like it when DM likes to help people with happy fun suggestions, but everyone is a basket case already- there are many additional, important ways to make the text readable. Let people have there little way on this.

    I will say that there are a lot of fonts I like, but I don’t like the boldface in.


  22. zb Says:

    So, folks should be using Helvetica, the typeface of the gods? And, what happens, to folks PDF’s, if I insist on using Gill Sans, which is beautiful.


  23. The author/date vs. numbers discussion ought to be silly: we should just have formats, where the reader decides that, not the author (easy enough, technically). It’s yet another sign of how backwards and antiquated our communication system really is.


  24. And, what happens, to folks PDF’s, if I insist on using Gill Sans, which is beautiful.

    If the Division of Receipt and Referral is doing their jobbe, they will reject your grant submission without review.


  25. Mike Says:

    I can only imagine what other arbitrary and trivial decisions I will make when writing a grant, that will cause certain wise reviewers to simultaneously burn with incandescent rage that I did something so annoying, and burst into laughter with uncontrollable condescension that I did something so stupid. Not easy being a “n00b”.


  26. drugmonkey Says:

    Brilliant BB! I long for this New Day to arrive.


  27. dr24hours Says:

    CPP: Yes. Because everyone always bitches ab0ut the tools that do it for you.


  28. Anon Says:

    We fight about this every grant cycle, don’t we DM? I HATE author/date references and much prefer to review grants with numbered refs. I’m sure it’s a field-specific convention, in my field all of the journals use numbers and I find it much easier to find a reference when it’s numbered. Those extra seconds it takes to sort out which paper with the same author and date we’re referring to make me grumpy. And no one wants a grumpy reviewer.

    The bane of my reviewing existence this week is big shot PIs who write the renewal for their 30-odd year grant using 0.5 inch margins, NO figures, and magic fairy “specific aims” that are the same specific aims they’ve been using for 30-odd years and somehow encompass solving all of the worlds problems. If a noob wrote like that, it would mean automatic triage, but I’m sure that my low-ish scores for these grants will be the lowest.

    On another note – my SRO is SERIOUS about lowering our scores this round (our SS has major problems with score compression around 2.5-3). A discussion/triage cutoff of around 4.5-5 will be enforced (we’re usually at ~2.7 for established PIs!). I’m very interested to see how this will go. Any other study sections making major adjustments this round?


  29. Pinko Punko Says:

    Mike- these guys know what they know and that is a lot, but they also like riling up the noobs. If you can justify your choice for a rational reason, you should stick with it. You want to show that you believe in your science and you can make a compelling argument. You want reviewers to be happy, but you want to convince them not just do what they say- they can be wrong at times and you need to see where your grant was right but you did a bad job explaining or showing why you were right, and not just automatically assume that the reviewers are right. They might be right for the wrong reasons, so their words can tell you a lot about your proposal, but it doesn’t always relate to what they are saying exactly, it might relate to the reason why they are saying that.


  30. drugmonkey Says:

    IME it is default behavior for SEOs to nag about score compression…


  31. dr24hours Says:

    Anon: If a 30 year grant is up for renewal, but you wouldn’t fund the same grant written by another PI, score it unfundably. Sink the fucker.


  32. Grumble Says:

    DM is wrong, wrong, WRONG. As a reviewer, the amount of time it takes me to look up a numbered reference, in those instances where I actually give a shit, is utterly trivial, so I really could not care less what style of reference the applicant uses. (Unless they use PNAS-style references, with no title and truncated author lists. But I’ve yet to see a NIH grant that does that.)

    Generally, DM gives good grantsmanship advice. But not this time. This is an issue that is completely trivial and stupid, and suggesting that reference style has any importance what-so-fucking-ever does a disservice to any newbies who are now sitting around worried that their grants are going to get triaged because of numbered references. Their grants are indeed going to get triaged, but reference style won’t be even a tiny part of the reason.


  33. What any PI or writer wants is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what kind of surveys are done of the brilliant folks who read this blog.

    Read what CPP says: what counts is WHAT THE REVIEWERS think!

    And if some reviewers are older (i.e. >50) then they need reading glasses when using a laptop. Then they don’t know (necessarily) or want (more likely) to keep multiple windows open. They have 3-8 grants on which they are the first reviewer. They have too much to do and too little time to do it. It doesn’t matter that it is a pdf and the reviewer can “adjust the size” – too little white space, numbering/outlining of sections that doesn’t make sense, and yes, numbered citations are all ways to irritate the reviewer.

    You want to make the reviewer’s job as easy as possible. Period.


  34. Grumble Says:

    “Don’t have to renumber when you make changes.”

    Where do you stand on the IBM Selectric vs standard electric typewriter debate?


  35. Spiny Norman Says:

    I feel the need to throw another bug into this jar of fighting bugs.

    If numbered references are to be used, do we number by callout order, or alphabetically by surname of lead author.

    Have fun, kids. I’ll be over in the corner stewing over the fact that NIH won’t allow me to use Garamond, set in beautiful columns with an average of 65-70 char/line.


  36. drugmonkey Says:

    The fact that this question exists is more proof of how badly numbered citation is fucked up and wrong.


  37. Pinko Punko Says:

    Callout order for sure!!!!!


  38. iGrrrl Says:

    CPP said this: “If you think this has to do with consciously dinging someone for their reference style, you are very ignorant of how peer review works from the standpoint of human cognition.”

    IME, IMO, etc., if you approach your grant without consciously thinking about the unconscious responses a reviewer will have, you don’t even know whether you’re aiming a gun at your foot, much less whether you’re about to shoot yourself in it.

    Think about what the wise Dr. Theron wrote. Those of us over 50 do not want to be reminded of that fact. When approaching a grant to review, we have heuristics, cognitive biases, conscious biases with respect to layout and organization, and presbyopia. You will never get your reviewer to be your champion in the room unless you make it easy for them to read and understand your proposed project. Ola, if I’d seen the reference style you discuss above in a proposal (Name, PMCID hyperlink), I would have automatically put it on the bottom of the pile as “irritating”, largely because you missed the point of the funder deciding that the list of cited literature counted in the page limits–to make the overall proposal shorter.

    And why did NIH remove a formal Background section? Not just to make the proposal shorter, but to stop the trend of exhaustive and irrelevant literature review. (Seriously, 15 years later we don’t need the history of the cloning of the gene, or that your well-known mutant was discovered in the 1920s. If those details aren’t relevant to the work you propose, don’t waste space.) My rule of thumb for an R01 is 60-80 citations, 40-60 for R21 or R03. Less than that is usually a problem. More can be useful, but sometimes it’s I-dotting t-crossing literature.*

    The references thing, IME, seems very field specific, so you have to know the norms of your field. In my travels I’ve encountered a few fields where numbers are the norm, and (Name, et al., YEAR) would look very, very strange to the reviewer. But none of these fields are biomedicine.

    *If it’s a potential reviewer’s dotting of Is and crossing of Ts, of course you include it…


  39. Anon Says:

    Regarding iGrrrl and Dr. Theron’s comments – even some reviewers under 40 like to print out the proposal section of the grant and read it curled up on a cozy couch. If the figure text is almost indecipherable for someone with fairly “young” eyes, the majority of reviewers are doomed!

    And even if none of the fields where numbered references are the norm are “biomedicine”, some are very biomedically relevant. And NIH funded. (I’m thinking chemistry, specifically.)


  40. pgozinia Says:

    DM….sorry, you’re drinking bongwater here. I have used number format for every application Ive ever submitted for 20 years with NO problem whatsoever….and as a current SS member I couldn’t care less how an applicant chooses to ref….so long as they do so accurately.

    For the new PIs….some of these allknowing comments on this blog are utter crap.


  41. drugmonkey Says:

    For the new PIs….some of these allknowing comments on this blog are utter crap.

    Yes, like yours for example.

    Look I’m just saying people, when PayPay and I actually agree on something……


  42. qaz Says:

    Unfortunately, as can be seen by the comments here, different reviewers feel differently about such seemingly simple things. Once you move beyond specific fields, you find that each field has its preferences.

    For example, if I’m reviewing your grant, you’d better damn well prove to me that you know the background on the question you are asking, with appropriate citations to match (*). Personally, I used to hate citation order, and liked Author-year, but now I like numbers, but alphabetical. And I like LOTS of cites. (as both writer and reviewer)

    * Getting the background right was especially improtant when I was reading NRSAs and whenI am reading grants from new investigators. (Its my job to judge the likely impact of the proposal. Whether the investigator knows the background literature or not is a major part of whether or not the proposal will have impact.)

    Far far more important than citation format is writing a clear, sensible proposal that lays out the questions, methods, logic, and importance. With lots of white space. And headings. And short paragraphs.

    I have found over my time that my use of author-year cites has been anti-correlated with my grant success. However, thats probably more because I have gotten better at the important stuff than about the citation format.


  43. drugmonkey Says:

    Ok, so “make sure to cite qaz-lab”… Check.


  44. qaz Says:

    🙂 Actually, I’ve been known to complain about not citing other labs as well as mine…

    Seriously, though, my main issue is that I often see young’uns only citing the people in their own family tree, and missing important ideas from elsewhere.

    It was once said to me that one should always check the study section roster to make sure you’ve cited the appropriate people on it. Not doing so, I was told was “leaving points on the table”. Although, in writing this, I realize I generally don’t do this explicitly anymore. But I’m always pretty complete in my citation list, so I probably have hit the important ones anyway.

    And, yes, if qaz-lab came up with an important idea or background that bears on your proposal, citing me is going to make me look more favorably on your grant. I suspect that’s human nature. And not citing me when you should have is going to make me unhappy, and making your reviewers unhappy is (as I think has been said in a number of the grant rants) a bad idea.


  45. drugmonkey Says:

    I don’t need them to cite exhaustively…with these 12 pagers, especially. What *does* draw my notice is when literature inconvenient to their proposal is left out.


  46. […] GrantRant X Funding the preproposal. Good idea, or this way be dragons? The Real Wisdom of the Crowds Least Square Linear Regression Research Support […]


  47. Eli Rabett Says:

    NSF on two columns:

    “Since many reviewers will be reviewing proposals electronically, proposers are strongly encouraged to use only a standard, single-column format for the text. Avoid using a two-column format since it can cause difficulties when reviewing the document electronically.”

    One trick that is probably out of bounds is to have popups in the acrobat file so that when someone clicks on or mouses over the reference number the entire reference pops up in a cartoon bubble. It would be great if they allowed that.


  48. Spiny Norman Says:

    @ Qaz: “Seriously, though, my main issue is that I often see young’uns only citing the people in their own family tree, and missing important ideas from elsewhere.”

    GREAT point.

    I came from a lab that had a bit of a reputation for that and so was exceptionally careful to cite the prior literature with breadth and precision in my early proposals. Referees noticed, and commented on that in their reviews.


  49. Julie Stahlhut Says:

    Ugh. Numbered citations are the bane of my existence. Not only are they irritating to read, but they’re difficult to troubleshoot and nearly impossible to edit unless you never, ever change so much as a word in a document after stripping rhe EndNote or Zotero codes.


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