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Bring it down a notch

We’ve been fortunate enough recently to interview a number of Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts members on their top tips for grant writers. The information gathered has been woven into our Grant Writing Workshops, but we want to share one particular pearl of wisdom with you here.

Before we do, we need to highlight why the opinions of these people are so important to you. When you submit your proposal to the ARC for funding under the Discovery Scheme (for example), it is assigned to two ARC College of Experts. These people are responsible for:

  1. directing your proposal to a few experts with similar research interests as your own for their expert opinion on the merit of your proposal, and

  2. crafting the expert reviewers’ scores and your rejoinder into a final decision on whether you receive any money.

Hence, it’s important to please these people and ensure they’re on your side. So, what is the one thing they all say annoys them the most?


All of the ARC College of Expert members we’ve met are regular, albeit extremely intelligent, people and they all hate not being able to understand what the heck you’re on about. Since your aim is to convince these people that your particular piece of research is incredibly relevant and of immediate importance, it’s essential that you succinctly and coherently outline the problem, the current way the problem is (obviously unsuccessfully) being addressed and the new and novel way you are going to approach it. Sounds easy right?

What tends to happen more often than not is that researchers launch straight into a highly technical and illegible account of their pet subject (often peppered with dozens of acronyms and buzz words). They write their application for the expert reviewers who (usually) read their application, forgetting that non-experts actually have primary carriage of their proposal and need to dissect out the immediate political, economic, health or social impact the research will make. Don’t make it hard for them! Don’t forget just how expert you’ve become in your field and that 99% of other intelligent researchers are not nearly as well read on your subject (or, quite frankly, care as much). We’re not saying that all proposals written this way get funded either. Some very well-articulated proposals still fail and there is, no doubt, a lot of luck involved. But you will give yourself the best chance if you make sure an intelligent, non-expert in your field can easily understand why you are doing your piece of pet research and why it is going to change our lives.

Have you reviewed a lot of grants? If you have a “pet hate”, we’d love to hear about it below!

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