OPTIONS TO CONSIDER

*Think About Foundation Funding*

It is possible that one or more local, state, or national foundations may be appropriate potential sources of funding for your projects. Most non-profit foundations have very specific missions and will only fund programs having to do with their particular interest areas. However, if you search, foundation funding can be obtained for a variety of projects. These might include projects related to human services, community development, the environment, educational activities, and the promotion of arts and culture. Foundation funding can be restricted to particular places and as well as types of activities. Many foundations consider their grant funding to be investments in their regions of geographical interest.

For example, the WK Kellogg Foundation prioritizes its funding in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, and New Orleans, nationally, and Haiti and Mexico, internationally. While the locations listed above are their priorities, other locations (eg, Child Care Resource Center, Inc., Opelika, Alabama) where programs meet the mission of the foundation can benefit from WK Kellogg Foundation funding. The WK Kellogg Foundation’s programs focus on Educated Kids, Healthy Kids, Secure Families, Community & Civic Engagement, and Racial Equity. They offer various types of support, including fellowships, operating funds, program development and evaluation, and seed funds, among others.

Another example is The Coca-Cola Foundation, which focuses their grant funding on economic empowerment of women, access to clean water and water conservation, active healthy living, education, and youth development. Their regions of interest include California, District of Columbia, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Virginia. It offers continuing support, fellowships, operating support, program development, and scholarships.

Some foundations operate nationally, for example, The Abbvie Patient Assistance Foundation (previously known as the Abbot Patient Assistance Foundation). Their primary focus is on diabetes and healthcare and they provide Abbott medications and care products to disadvantaged individuals. Biology and medical research are the primary interests of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, another foundation with a national focus. It promotes early career development of scientists planning careers in academic research, physician-scientists, science and math teachers, and others. This foundation supports program development and research activities.

While some foundations prefer not to receive an introductory phone call, many others do not have restrictions. Therefore, it is important to do the necessary “homework” to determine if your project is a good match that will interest your targeted list of foundations, and a direct phone call is often appropriate. A well-scripted phone call serves to introduce you and your project, and allows the foundation’s program officer to assess the potential level of interest in your project. According to the Foundation Center, this sometimes leads to an invitation to submit a letter of inquiry or even a full proposal. At the very least, it serves to introduce your name and your institution to the foundation’s program officer, and establishes a relationship that may grow in the future.

An internet search will yield access to a number of websites that provide information about foundation funding. Your institution may have subscriptions to some of them. An example is the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online. Your institution’s research development office is an often underutilized resource for assistance with locating more information about foundation and other funding opportunities.

THERE IS OFTEN NOTHING “WRONG” WITH YOUR WRITING

*Most Authors Need an Editor*

I was recently asked by an author, “What is wrong with my writing?” Many of my authors (including this particular one) are very good writers and many of them have a primary language other than English.

I find that often articles (eg, a, an, the) are missing from sentences, but there may not be many things “wrong” with the writing per se. Because word counts are very important to the publication process, I try to simplify and reduce the word count wherever possible. As I have noted in various revisions of your documents, there are some phrases that can be replaced by one word, but there is nothing really “wrong” with using those phrases. For example, “On the other hand,…” (4 words) can be replaced by “However,…” (1 word); “more straightforward…” (2 words) can be replace by “direct…” (1 word). I often find that word choice can be improved (authors often use general rather than specific terms). I have also observed that many people write very LONG sentences, which are almost always hard to understand and can usually be divided into two simpler sentences.

My goal as an author’s editor is to try to identify and avoid or eliminate “speed bumps” in American English—things that might cause a reviewer to struggle with understanding a scientific document and cause them frustration. There are a number of things that I do to try to ensure the consistency and coherence of a document. My process is usually as follows:

First Pass: Spell check—while doing this I can usually speed read the document and see what sentences might be complex enough to cause a “speed bump.” This allows me to get a basic understanding of the content of the document. For example, I check for omission of articles (a, an, the), and I check for a number of simple errors (eg, two spaces rather than one, spaces before or after periods, use of hyphen when an “en” dash should be used, etc.).

Second Pass: I reduce the word count if possible and I try to ensure consistency in style and terminology. I try to identify the use of abbreviations and acronyms and ensure that their definitions are present. Often abbreviations simply aren’t needed and I eliminate them. I verify that figures and tables are cited and present; you might be surprised at how often they are not present or are misplaced! I verify that figure and table titles are present and used consistently; I check word usage (eg, use of “amount” when “number” is meant); I identify and clarify or flag ambiguous sentences. I check consistency of verb tense—to try to maintain overall consistency (eg, past tense for a Results section).

Third/Fourth Pass: I read the document word-for-word, keeping all of the above in mind. If I identify an error in methods or logic or science, whatever, I change, rewrite, or flag it. Finally, I verify that the reference citations are present and accounted for in the Reference list. I do not verify the accuracy of citations or journal references unless this is requested; that takes too much time. Most academic clients would have students or others who can verify citations and references (which is what I would recommend). However, if a citation is missing from the reference list (or vice versa) I will flag it. If requested, I can format the document to conform to specific journal requirements. This can take a lot of time and would cost more money; if a client has a secretary available, it might be best to pass this task to him/her.

Overall, there are several hundred specific things I check within a document submitted for editing—a typical journal manuscript (<5000 words) takes me about 4 hours to complete. My goal is to reduce the number of things that might cause a reviewer to misunderstand or ignore or become frustrated with reading the science—that is, I try to eliminate the “speed bumps.” If you have specific questions about my suggestions (and my changes and comments are only suggestions) you can certainly ask me about them. I send this note (below) to all first-time clients; if you think it can be improved for better understanding of what I offer, please let me know!


 

I edited your manuscript for spelling, grammar, clarity, consistency, cohesion, and coherence. My “Comments” are questions, suggestions, or alternatives that you might consider. Briefly, copyediting corrects spelling errors, grammar, punctuation, misplaced modifiers, changes in tense, problems in parallelisms, and the use of inappropriate language. In addition, copyediting includes changing passive voice to active voice where appropriate and developing a consistent style and tone. I usually find it necessary to perform substantive editing, which includes all of the features of copyediting with particular attention to the structure, organization, and concepts. This ensures an appropriate pace, uniform tone and clear focus, eliminating wordiness, triteness, and jargon, and smoothing transitions and positioning sentences to improve readability.

A Solution in Search of a Problem

*New Format for NIH Biographical Sketch*

Have you had to contact twenty, forty, or more busy faculty members and convince them to supply their Biographical Sketch (Biosketch) on a deadline? It is no easy task and recent changes may not make it any easier.

Last year, administrators at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) proposed a revision of the traditional Biosketch guidelines and format (described here and in the Rock Talk blog here) and implemented a pilot study before changing the procedure. The Biosketch page count has been increased from 4 to 5 pages, and the instructions modified to allow investigators to 1) enumerate their principal findings in up to five research areas, 2) specify how their work has impacted their field(s), and 3) elaborate on their roles in the research work proposed.

Further, investigators are asked to supply up to four peer-reviewed publications relevant to each of their five research areas, and provide a link to their publications list via MyBibliography or SciENcv  (both reported in Rock Talk blog comments to be difficult to use and/or returning errors). An update on the implementation of the new system (here) elicited many interesting comments (more than 70 comments on 13 Feb 2015)—nearly all of them were negative.

The survey offered to those who used the new format in the NIH pilot studies did not include a key question about the purpose for the change: Is the new format improved over the original format? Respondents who left comments at the Rock Talk blog noted that the survey was poorly designed and pointed out that the Reviewers who participated in the pilot study (29) expressed divided opinions about the helpfulness of the new Biosketch format in conveying an investigator’s scientific contributions (15 Reviewers found the new format helpful; 14 Reviewers had a neutral opinion or found the new format was not helpful). Several respondents noted that they would not use a similar improperly designed and underpowered survey in their own work.

Many blog respondents noted that the data did not support the change in format, and some of them expressed concerns about introducing additional gender, ethnic, and other bias to the grant application process. They noted that early stage and other investigators may not have the needed experience in multiple research areas to allow them to compete with more senior investigators, and, further, they would not able to produce evidence of a lasting impact on any given field early in their careers. One comment, posted by an individual who found the change helpful indicated that the new format would reward those whose long-term research has high impact. Some respondents noted that the new format could become a platform for overstatement and duplicity or otherwise be used for self-promotion and marketing.

There was agreement that the new Biosketch format adds an additional burden to an already difficult grant application process. Respondents agreed that the new format involves more paper work and greater administrative burden for the research team, the principal investigator, and administrative staff.

Some respondents noted that the change is a waste of time and tax payer dollars. Others noted that more senior personnel may not be willing to spend hours tailoring their Biosketch every time they are asked to serve on a research team, and some people were exasperated with a process that continues to change without ever becoming easier. Those with experience reviewing grant applications noted that they might very well ignore the Biosketches submitted and rely on the results of their own PubMed search for the names of investigators.

Alternatives to the new Biosketch format proposed included returning to the original format, eliminating the Biosketch component completely, blinding the identity of all grant proposal investigators, or making the use of the new format optional. We hope interesting and innovative research will be funded no matter what format is used; however, NIH grant applications due May 25 and after that date must use the new Biosketch format.