NIH Grant Stylings: Preliminary Data

November 6, 2015

In the golden days of yore, when the research plan stretched to 25 pages, the Preliminary Data had a specific place. You created a header and put it inbetween the Background and the Research Plan.


In the latest version of the NIH application there is no explicit place and the headers more or less match the review criteria- Significance, Innovation and Research Strategy (which maps to Approach).

I had heard of people who sprinkled their Preliminary Data figures all across the app even in the old days but I can’t remember ever trying it. With the new application, however, it just made sense to me. 

Some figures are Background/Significance and some figures are really just showing technical ability for that tricky assay used in Aim 3. Some speak directly to the Innovation.

So I spread the figures around when I think they do the most good. 

Isn’t this what everyone is doing now? Have you seen other approaches? 

22 Responses to “NIH Grant Stylings: Preliminary Data”

  1. It’s the only way I’ve ever done it, but NSF has never had a defined section for preliminary data.


  2. Ben Says:

    Yeah, putting them where they’re needed makes sense. About a year ago, I put the preliminary data in a separate section and one of the reviewers mentioned that it’s a pain to scroll back and forth between the text and the relevant pilot data, although (s)he emphasized that it wasn’t a deal breaker. A good tip that probably should have been obvious to me anyway.


  3. potnia theron Says:

    Ditto, ditto, ditto ==> where needed. Also, when reviewing, it helps me, the reviewer, the most. Putting it at the end is not useful.

    Remember the meta-criterion (from which all else flows) in proposal writing is: make it easy for the reviewer to understand what you want to do, and that you are capable of doing it.


  4. Philapodia Says:

    I put it in where it makes sense for the narrative so that it helps the reviewer read the grant. Seems like the logical way to do it…


  5. Established PI Says:

    Endorse 100%. It makes it much easier to follow if you describe your approach and show feasibility where appropriate. An exception I have seen is a new grant in which preliminary data set a new direction and are the foundation on which the proposed experiments are built. Bottom line is to make it easy on the reviewer.


  6. Pinko Punko Says:

    I try to put that sweet narcotic where it preempts questions about where it is. What I do like is stating its existence early in key places when it is motivating new directions etc


  7. PepProf Says:

    I sill always create a separate Preliminary Data section that goes in between the Innovation and Research Plan. New format be damned.

    No one has ever complained, and I’ve been successful with NIH on at least 4 large grants with this style. I feel there is more impact when you can dedicate an entire section to what you have already accomplished – just to make it clear that you are well on your way with the project. Then, the Research Plan becomes almost an afterthought. Sort of like saying “See, all we need to do is tie up these loose ends and explore these other avenues with the techniques we have already mastered. Easy!”

    Don’t get me wrong. I would prefer to write more ambitious and groundbreaking proposals with exciting narratives. But now, more than ever, funding agencies seem to punish any perceived risk-taking. Unfortunately, this leads to exciting science that must hide within a boring application format. The more I make my research strategy sound like a contract proposal, the better my scores have been. Sad, really.


  8. drugmonkey Says:

    I don’t know why anyone would “complain” about you doing it in the older style? Nothing in the instructions prevents you from doing this. And obviously that was an effective format for years.


  9. Ola Says:

    I try to have at least one figure per page, if only to avoid the “sea of text” styling. As a reviewer with borderline ADD, having a few figures not only breaks the monotony of reading, it also provides some white-space for scribbles.


  10. dsks Says:

    “it’s a pain to scroll back and forth between the text and the relevant pilot data, although (s)he emphasized that it wasn’t a deal breaker.”

    WTF? That was in the summary statement? Does this person say the same thing in the 90% of manuscripts they review that arrive with the main text, legends and figures separated? Get a bigger computer screen, already.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    Ola- great point.


  12. Adam Says:

    I make general “significance” and “innovation” sections. Then, for each aim, I make little “significance” and “innovation” sections, then the “approach”, then “preliminary data”. Basically, each aim is it’s own little grant of sorts. I’ve always done it that way, even with the old format, and no one has complained.


  13. Dave Says:

    I just recently put all my prelim data at the beginning of the approach in its own section, except for feasibility stuff which I tried to put next to each aim. I might spread it out a bit more next time as I got the impression that some of the data was lost/forgotten as the reviewer read the proposal.

    In terms of prelim data, it seems the more you put in, the more they want. I was blown away by the request for yet more data in my first R01 as an ESI.


  14. Grumble Says:

    Yup, DM’s way is the natural way. Some data says, “we showed X, so therefore we have hypothesis Y.” Some data says, “looky, we can do this kind of experiment.” Some data says, “we think this experiment will turn out like we say it will because we already did part of the experiment.” Only the first kind belongs with Background. The other two go where you propose the actual experiment. If you put the latter two kinds up front, the reviewer might forget all about them by the time she gets to the experimental section.

    This is particularly true nowadays, when the safest bet is to make sure every single experiment has some preliminary data. I’m a collaborator on a grant with something approaching 20 preliminary data figures. If all the data were in one section, reading the grant would be like reading a fucking Nature paper where all the data is in supplemental.


  15. Eli Rabett Says:

    Spread it out, but spare a few words at the end to bring it all together as in “we have preliminary data which shows that (Fig 2) and (Fig 3)” etc. Now all we need is for you assholes to fund this proposal (so we can accomplish the earth shattering thing) that this leads to.


  16. I put the preliminary data that tells the reviewer why she should givafuk in the Significance section, and then the preliminary data that tells the reviewer that we can do what the fucke we say we’re gonna do in the Research Design section.


  17. AcademicLurker Says:

    Preliminary data…doesn’t that go in the biosketch?


  18. Imager Says:

    Depends., I used to do it all lumped between innovation and Approach, lately I put one in where I have the data just in front if each 3 aims and another whee it is still lumped. Difference between the grants? One (lumped) is one story, where the data flow into a nice story showing that yes, we can do that stuff (from mice to women) and the aims reflect that. The other one has 3 aims that are all different (but under one big title), so here it made mor sense to show the preliminary data which each aim as all different topics of some sort (but same overall approach/new method). Time will tell, probably both won’t be discussed so it doesn’t make a difference.
    If the reviewer likes the story making him it more likable helps, if he doesn’t, nothing helps.


  19. Imager Says:

    sorry for all the typos, trying to get another grant out…


  20. physioprof Says:

    Preliminary data…doesn’t that go in the biosketch?

    Upcoming new rule is no figures allowed in biosketch. Presumably for this reason.


  21. JustAGrad Says:

    Wait, didn’t the biosketch just change to focus on applicants’ impact on science? Why no figures? For us imaging folks, that would have been useful.


  22. Dusanbe Says:

    Surely you can describe your contribution using only words, no? Even non-imaging folks have pretty pictures to show, but I don’t see how even the most stunning image can accurately convey one’s impact on imaging technology.


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