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Clarifying Your Message: the Pre-application/LOI

Though certainly a cliche metaphor, I find “can’t see the forest for the trees” to be remarkably relevant when describing the grant writing process. It is the nature of science for researchers to be so immersed in the niches of their field and nuances of the day-to-day so as not to be able to see that forest. Yet describing that forest is key to successful grant application preparation.

One aspect of the grant application process that is often overlooked is the pre-application. In some cases, the pre-application is simply a short letter of intent (LOI), with no review and thus no significant concern for quality. However, some pre-apps are peer reviewed and can greatly benefit from a “pre-review”--a set of eyes that can see the forest.

I recently assisted a multi-PI team in pulling together a pre-application for a team science award. Bringing together perspectives from different fields can be helpful in clarifying the forest but at the risk of adding trees. In this case, their combined contributions lead to a 6-page draft, when the terms of the grant announcement limited the pre-application narrative to only 2 pages.

Though they had filled those 6 pages with interesting trees, many could be saved for the full application without sacrificing the integrity of the forest. Importantly, though, despite the length, they were missing elements required by the grant announcement. In under 7 hours, including consultation, I was able to help them craft a pre-app that met the 2-page requirement and focused the content to match the announcement.

And speaking of seeing the forest, it’s important to keep in mind that your audience is the peer review panel, even at the pre-app stage. I demonstrated to the PI team how to use the announcement language to draw reader attention to the elements of their document that clearly address each of the scoring criteria, an aspect of grantsmanship that is particularly critical in a document as page-limited as a pre-application or reviewed LOI.

Make sure your reviewers see the forest! In a full application, they can go (and will) go looking for the individual trees they need to find, but if the overall message is lost, so too is the likelihood of funding.

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