How to … Specific Aims

Some misc. thoughts on writing SA’s for NIH. Make it an inverse pyramid – most general to most specific.  Each of the points below is 1-2 sentences.

Remember, if it is too long (more than a page) you are saying too much.

Para1: Intro Paragraph – this is a paragraph. do not alternate bits of (2) &(3) below – it will be too long & too confusing for reviewers.

  1. Opening sentence:First sentence should be strong, active voice and include the significance to NIH’s mission.
  2. What is known. This is not a lit review. This is 1-2 sentences that sets up the context for the reviewers who are not involved in bunny hopping research.
  3. What is not known? Again, short, short 1-2 sentences, why we need to do this research for the betterment of all people-kind.
  4. Frame this unknown as a problem that you can solve. (your help should be implicit at this point).

Para2: “Who the heck are you and why are you doing this” para

  1. Brief intro to you – what are your goals for the longterm (ie investing in you). Understood that this is a multi-grant, many-yeared lifetime statement.
  2. What is the BIG QUESTION for this proposal. The link to previous sentence should be fairly obvious.
  3. A statement of your central hypothesis. – your ‘best bet’ on what you will find.
  4. Why do you want to do this – what will you be changing in the field as a result of this
  5. End with why you are the royalty of the field – why they should think that you should do this.

Para3: Specifics Paragraph

This should be the specifics aims of the grant. Should be short, and preferably in bold. Reverse indent if you need to, make this EASY to read. Non-assigned reviewers should be able to find this para easily. Can include hypotheses & alternatives if you can keep them short. Leave out methods here.

Para4: Concluding para – I’ve heard it called: Payoff Paragraph

  1. summary of what is innovative
  2. Summary of what this will do to change the field
  3. Something about expected outcomes in broad sense “cancer will be cured”.

16 thoughts on “How to … Specific Aims

  1. Pingback: Royalty clarification on Writing SA’S | Mistress of the Animals

  2. Pingback: NSF preproposal specific aims section | Prof-Like Substance

  3. Pingback: How to … Specific Aims | Ambitious Female Postdoc

  4. Para1, Para2, and Para4 you are spot on. But Para3 you fucke uppe (which I doubt) or explained really poorly (more likely). Each Specific Aim (there should be three for an R01 or two for an R21 or R03 (don’t ever ever ever write an R03)) is its own paragraph, with at least three sentences each.

    • Bingo. Really Poorly. I disagree a bit about the numbers, I think you can sustain 3-4 in an R01, but agree that for R21 or R15 (small places grants), more than 2 doesn’t work. And never ever write an R03. What a waste of energy.

  5. It varies from IC to IC. It think what CPP is saying here is that the amount you get is not worth the time it takes to write. This also varies by IC, since there are some that have opted out of the Parent FOA, and set their own higher limits (longer time, more money). It’s worth looking at the IC you target to make this decision.

  6. Pingback: More common critiques of NIH proposals – theoretical underpinnings | Mistress of the Animals

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