A critical part of any grant proposal is the summary or specific aims page. It sets the tone for the primary reviewers, and is likely the only thing that other panel members will read.

A good specific aims page will not guarantee funding, but a bad specific aims page can kill your proposal

     The "specific aims" or summary page is a mini version of your grant proposal.  Think of it as an "elevator speech" that gives reviewers a mental model of what you are proposing and why

      it is important.

In general, the page of the summary/specific aims should be organized like this.

Based on the work of the CLIMB program at Northwestern University which has analyzed the elements that are common to successful specific aims pages, the first part of your summary/specific aims page should include 1 - 2 sentences for each of the following.

  • Describe the general context & significance of the work (the big picture for why reviewers should care).

  • Narrow the context to include your proposed work (why your work is an important of part of that big picture).

  • Describe your previous contribution/research in this area

  • State a complication to the picture that highlights the gap/need the work will fill.

  • State your long-term objective for your work (generally a career-long objective that addresses the big picture).

  • State your specific goal for the proposed project (what do you want to know or have done by the end of the project).

  • Explicitly state your hypothesis.  For a program this is the guiding theory for your approach (for research grants this is the most important thing, so call it out with red or blue colored font).

  • Describe the research path that led you to the hypothesis (summarize your previous work and experience and findings from literature).

  • State the qualifications of the research team and tie them to project objectives

After the introduction, the remainder of the page includes your specific aims and an impact statement.

Number each aim or objective and put them in bold, italicized or colored text to call them out.

For research: Underneath each aims statement have 1 - 2 sentences that in generally describe your experimental approach (model and methodology to be used).  For reviewers to like your application, they need to be able to visualize how you will carry out your project. Provide enough methodological information so that they will understand what you will do.

End with an impact statement that forcefully explains why it is important that this work get done.

There are special considerations for program grants.

Be careful to distinguish between  objectives which are measurable goals, and your activities, which are the implementable elements of your project.

The objectives for the project are measurable ways the world will be different by the project.  Eg. "Four-year graduation rates will be improved from 25% to 50%". Strong objectives include numerical targets for things that are measurable.

The program elements that you will implement are activities. A common weakness for program grant proposals is to label activities as aims or objectives. 

Eg. "Specific Aim #1: To implement a peer mentoring program that will improve graduation rates".  Many reviewers will punish this sort of activity disguised as an aim by down-grading the proposal.

The specific aims/summary page of a program proposal should have two bulleted lists.  First, list aims/objectives that are numerical and measurable, , then say  "To achieve these aims we will implement the following activities"

Then list the mentoring, professional development and undergraduate research activities that you want support for.

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