Summary-time, and the writing ain’t easy…

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight in March 2019 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com

“…. the words”.

All funding schemes have a summary section as an essential part of the application form. On the UK research councils’ JeS form, the instruction is to “[d]escribe the proposed research in simple terms in a way that could be publicised to a general audience”.

But the summary is not just about publicising your research. The summary also:

  • primes your reader’s expectations and understanding of your project
  • helps the funder to identify suitable experts to review your application
  • gives the reviewer a clear, straightforward, and complete overview of your project
  • helps your nominated funding panel introducer to summarise your application for the rest of the decision-making panel
  • acts as a prompt for the other panel members to recall your application, which they may have only skim-read
  • can be used once your project is successful, for a variety of purposes including ethics review; participant recruitment; impact work.
  • will appeal to non-academic panel members, especially for Leverhulme Trust applications.

How to make a mess of a summary

There are three main ways to make a mess of your summary.

1. Concentrating on the context – writing an introduction, not a summary.

I’ve written before about using too much background or introductory material (what I describe as ‘the Star Wars error’) but it’s a particular problem for a summary. The reader needs some context and background, but if it’s more than a sentence or two, it’s probably too much. If you don’t reach the “this research will” tipping point by a third of the way through (or worse, even later), there’s too much background.

2. Writing to avoid spoilers – writing a blurb not a precis

I really admire film editors who produce movie trailers: they capture the essence of the film while minimising spoilers. However while a film trailer for The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, or The Crying Game should omit certain key elements, a project summary needs to include all of them. An unexpected fifth-act twist is great for film fans, but not for reviewers. Their reaction to your dramatic twist of adding a hitherto unheralded extra research question or work package is more likely to earn you bafflement and a poor review than an Oscar.

3. Ignoring Plain English

The National Institute for Health Research’s Research for Patient Benefit form asks for a “Plain English summary of research”. As a former regional panel member, I have read many applications and some great examples of Plain English summaries of very complex projects. I have read applications from teams that have not tried at all, and from those whose commitment to Plain English lasts the first three paragraphs, before they lapse back.

Writing in Plain English is hard. It involves finding a way to forget how you usually communicate to colleagues, and putting yourself in the situation of someone who knows a fraction of what you do. Without dumbing down or patronising. If it wasn’t hard to write in Plain English, we wouldn’t need the expert shorthand of specialist language, which is usually created to simplify complicated concepts to facilitate clear and concise communication among colleagues.

Very few people can write their own Plain English summary. It’s something you probably need help with, and your friendly neighbourhood research development officer might be well placed to do this – and might even draft it for you.

Incidentally, with NIHR schemes, beware not only of using specialist language, but also using higher-reading-level vocabulary and expressions when more simple ones will do. There’s no need for a superabundance of polysyllabic terminonlogy. The Levehulme Trust offers some useful guidance on writing for the lay ‘lay reader’.

When to write it

Should you write the summary when you start the application, or when you’ve finished it? Ideally both.

You should sketch out your summary when you start writing – if you can’t produce a bullet point summary of your project you’re probably not ready to write it up as an application. Save plenty of time at the very end to rework it in the light of your completed project. Above all, get as much outside input on your summary as you can. It is the most important part of the application, and well worth your time and trouble.

This entry was posted in Application advice, Career Young Researchers, Funding, University culture. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Summary-time, and the writing ain’t easy…

  1. Marla says:

    Userbola
    The Userbola site is an online soccer gambling agent that is already connected with one of the biggest online bookie gambling companies in Asia,
    SBOBET. Besides being famous for online soccer gambling games, you
    can also play other types of online gambling
    games such as online casino, online poker,
    online poker and online soccer game. Userbola is a fairly complete site for those of you who want to play online gambling.
    The 24-hour Customer Service makes it easy for members
    to make funds deposit transactions and withdraw funds.
    It’s certain that how to join to become a member
    on Userbola.com is very easy, here are some steps you
    can follow.
    How to register
    How to register for Userbola and join as a
    member is very easy. On the home page there is a Register
    box that you can click. After you click the button you will enter the registration page to fill in the form provided.

    Make sure you are thorough and careful when entering important data needed in the registration form.
    Your personal identity and bank account number must be considered carefully to avoid data input errors.
    After that you will get a verification e-mail to activate the User ID that you have.
    This ID is used when you login to Userbola. Here are 5 special promos
    given by the Userbola.com site, especially in soccer
    gambling games that you can win.
    1. Member Get Member Promotion 75%
    The first promo is a reward for active members of Userbola
    by 75% if you succeed to invite your friends
    to play on Userbola.com. This bonus value is obtained for registrations carried out by providing an affiliate link to others.
    This bonus is calculated starting from the beginning of the month until the
    end of the month with the following conditions: Inviting 2-5
    people will get a bonus of 50% and more than 5 people by 75%.

    2. Sportsbook Welcome Bonus 100%
    The second interesting promotion is a welcome bonus that
    you can get for those of you who are new members and make a first deposit.
    The minimum deposit that you must top up is IDR 100,000. The maximum bonus that you can get is Rp.
    2,000,000 with prize draws or withdrawals that you
    can do at any time.
    3. Sportsbook Daily 10% Deposit Bonus
    The next promo offered by Userbola.com is a daily deposit bonus of 10%.

    This bonus applies to all members and is
    only given 1 time per day. With a minimum deposit of
    IDR 100,000 you might get a bonus of up to IDR 500,000.
    This bonus will be entered directly into
    the User ID after the deposit form has been approved in advance.

    4. 0.75% Weekly Rebate Sportsbook (SBOBET and MAXBET)
    The last interesting promo is an opportunity for you to get a Weekly Rebate.
    A rebate of 0/25% will be given to you directly after the betting ticket has been processed by Userbola.
    While the remaining 0.5% will be given every week starting from Monday-Sunday.

    You can get Rp.50,000 a week.
    Userbola Alternative Links
    Userbola provides alternative links that you can access. One
    of the newest and most frequently used Userbola links is Bukauser.com.
    This link makes it easy for you to enter the Userbola.com server so you can directly play the game you want.

    This site also provides Userbola mobile features, for those of you members who use your
    smartphone everyday this feature is suitable for use. You can play gambling games of your choice
    wherever and whenever you want

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.