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Crafting a strong narrative for your major research bid

This is Part 6 of a 10 part mini-series.

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This Blog is the sixth of a 10-part series looking at developing major research bids.

Last week we discussed the importance of a well-planned project budget, and looked at ways to optimise funding for your major research bid

This week we consider the importance of crafting a strong narrative for your major research bid, examine the core features of high quality proposal writing, and discuss the benefits of visualisations.

Importance and purpose

The proposal narrative can make or break whether your major research bid gets funded. It serves to connect the various elements of your proposal, communicate your big idea with clarity and confidence, and convey your passion and excitement for the proposed research. It is your golden opportunity to persuade and influence reviewers.

Core features

A strong narrative has a number of core features:

  • One voice. Achieve consistency in tone, style and content by harmonising the contributions of multiple authors into one voice. In practice, this means appointing a writer in chief whose role it is to tie it all together. Hint: this doesn’t have to be the Principal Investigator.
  • Readability. Clear content, in an easy to read format is a reviewer’s best friend. Choose simple alternatives to complex words, use paragraphs and headings to break up text, and write with rhythm in mind. Embrace white space, avoid jargon, and define abbreviations.
  • Coherence. For effortless reading, ensure a smooth flow of ideas and treat each paragraph as one part of a larger, unified structure. Sequence your key points logically so that the overarching concept and vision build off one another in an organised way.

For further information and resources on developing each of these elements, visit the proposal writing page of the major research bids toolkit.

Powerful graphics

Crafting a strong narrative isn’t just about words, it also involves creating powerful graphics that enhance and complement what you have written. A picture truly does speak a thousand words! They allow you to paint a clear, unambiguous picture of the proposed research, enabling reviewers to make sense of complex ideas in rapid time. Get your ideas down on one page, starting with the outcomes you want to communicate, and work back from there. Engage your team in the design process at the earliest possible stage, this is useful for developing a shared vision, and can help to surface any previously hidden issues that need to be addressed before moving forward.

Hints and tips for creating a powerful graphic:

  • Simple. Be selective in what you choose to represent, use simplified labels and annotations, and cut out the clutter – if something doesn’t enhance the message, remove it.
  • Clear. Each element should send a clear message. Use colour effectively, make sure your palette is accessible to those with visual impairments, and be consistent when applying font styles and using objects.
  • Bespoke. Looking at examples from other proposals can help to shape your thinking and provide much-needed inspiration, but the end product should be unique and original to your big idea.

For further information and guidance, visit the proposal writing page of the major research bids toolkit.

Project planning laid out

Gantt charts continue to be one of the most popular and effective ways of communicating your project schedule. They visually demonstrate the timetable for delivering essential tasks, the resources required to do so, and the relationships and interdependencies between them. They reduce the need for lengthy and overly complicated explanations within the proposal narrative, and offer a simple mechanism for highlighting cross-cutting themes and critical milestones.

Here are some dos:

  • Do use the correct project management terms to describe the various elements of the chart. Be consistent in their wider application and use throughout your proposal.
  • Do keep it simple. A high-level representation of the project plan is enough to show all the critical information the reviewers need to know at a glance.
  • Do use colour coding to enrich your chart, depict hierarchies and correspondences, and enhance visibility of key components.

And some don’ts:

  • Don’t go beyond one page. Detailed project plans often take a more operational focus and are unlikely to excite reviewers, or worse still, confuse them with too much information
  • Don’t use too much text, not only does it reduce the visual impact of your chart, it leads to information overwhelm. Avoid clutter and be succinct – let your chart breath.

For more information and advice on Gantt charts, head over to the project planning page of the major bids toolkit. Here you will also find a selection of templates to help you get started.

Coming up

This week we looked at crafting a strong narrative for your major research bid. Come back next week, when we hear from Dr Louise Ker who describes the benefits of cultivating a positive research culture, explains what funders are looking for, and offers her 5 factors for success when building good research culture into major bids.

Keep up to date

Avoid missing out on future installments of this Blog series by subscribing to the Edinburgh Research Office Blog. Make sure to also bookmark the major research bids toolkit homepage for easy access to the materials highlighted thus far, and to stay up-to-date with the latest major research bids content.

About the author 

Dr Kirsty Collinge is a Strategic Research Executive within Edinburgh Research Office. She is the lead author of this Blog series and has developed the accompanying major research bids toolkit. In addition to developing and reviewing a variety of major research bids, Kirsty has experience of setting up and coordinating high-value multi-partner projects. Having worked as a post-doctoral researcher on a large-scale interdisciplinary project, she also appreciates and understands the academic context in which major grants operate.



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