Tag Archives: formatting

fs3: What you see is what you get

OKED’s Funding Success Skills Series (FS3)  exposes faculty and other professionals to best practices, improves awareness of opportunity development resources, and cultivates an extended community interested in expanding skill sets to compete successfully for more complex, larger value opportunities available from the federal government.

The second forum of the fall 2013 series, titled “What you see is what you get: Effective messaging in proposals,” focused on creating eye-catching graphics and presenting text in engaging ways that resonate with the sponsor, clearly conveys highly technical content, and works within sponsor requirements to drive the reader’s attention to key themes. This includes interpreting the sponsor’s needs and requirements for formatting and organization, while taking advantage of useful techniques for enhancing a message.

The four panelists for this panel discussion had exceptional expertise and experience in a wide variety of topics in this vein. Click here for the video.

Matthew Scotch,an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics, opened the conversation with his top three recommendations for preparing proposal.

Ara Barsam, the Senior Director of Grants and Associate Research Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, was able to relate his experience working for a funding agency to his current work submitting proposals.

Liz Bernreuter, Director of Development at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, discussed moving a research heavy narrative into a philanthropic document, sharing multiple examples with the audience.

Patrick Cheung, Director Creative Services, provided a “crib sheet” of design DO’s and DON’Ts for the audience. It was a big hit.

The next fs3 will be on January 30, 2014: Some (sum) of its parts: Creating a persuasive and unique proposal narrative. Register now, space is limited.

fs3 is a set of monthly lunchtime discussions on topics that address the full spectrum of activities necessary for preparing successful proposals. The series aims to contribute substantially to creating a culture that results in winning faculty proposals. For more information, contact: researchstrategy (@) asu.edu.

What topic of discussion would help you to improve your application or proposal?

The Importance of Page Design

First and foremost, proposals must conform to the sponsor’s requirements regarding formatting and organization. Once addressed, page design describes how information is laid out on each page. It involves the nuances of white space, reader fatigue, and persuasion.

Academic researchers often have a visceral negative reaction to including graphics in proposals. Reasons run the gamut; graphics are often either not necessary to convey meaning or are too ostentatious. And, I agree, it is a delicate balance between providing a concise information heavy graphic and squandering the reviewer’s time.

The inclusion, style, and frequency of graphics and is determined largely by the sponsor’s expectation and the principal investigator’s style (previous experience). A full page color brochure ad is not appropriate when responding to the National Science Foundation. A text heavy, full justified, single spaced methods section is not appropriate when approaching a foundation. In the same breath, convincing a faculty member who has 20+ successful years of funding through the NIH to include a photograph of the laboratory to show the diversity of team and projects may not be a useful pursuit.

Ultimately, page design should be used to your advantage, to persuade the reader into seeing how wonderful your proposed work is. To that end, here are some tips I use when considering page design:

  • Graphics should condense text or replace text.
  • Use text boxes for figures to your advantage; make them strong statements that promote your thesis.
  • Have one graphic element per page.
  • Use floating text boxes sparingly, but load them with information that cannot be integrated well into the narrative (facts, figures, testimonials).
  • Use left justified text, so that the reader can use visual cues as they make their way down the page.
  • Research changes from year to year on san serif or serif font, so I no longer have a recommendation.
  • Always check your figures in black and white, printed, and copied (electronic submission is becoming the norm, but reviewers may print/copy proposals).
  • Graphic elements should be either line or cartoon or photo, but rarely a combination of those.
  • Always ask yourself if the proposal “real estate” that you trade for a graphic element is worth it.
  • Have two people review your graphic without the figure or legend and tell you what it means to them (this will help you work on your messaging).

Do you have any rules that you follow for page design?