Danes reveal tips for successful Horizon 2020 applications

‘Verbose’ language, bad English and unexplained abbreviations all figure highly in reasons for rejection

July 3, 2018
Man with scrunched drafts
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Nearly half of researchers who evaluate grant proposals for European Union funding say that “verbose” or unclear language in applications has a “significant” or “critical” impact on their evaluation.

This is one of the findings of a survey of more than 100 Danish evaluators of projects for Horizon 2020, the EU’s multibillion-euro research and innovation programme, that reveals a wealth of tips for potential applicants.

Evaluators “really appreciate” clear proposals, “without too many words and without [the proposals] being more academic than needed”, according to Evaluations and Evaluators in Horizon 2020, a report prepared by the Danish ministry of higher education and science, Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen in an attempt to understand a sometimes “baffling” selection process.

Forty-six per cent of evaluators said that “verbose” or “hard to understand” language had a “critical” or “significant” impact on their decisions.

A quarter said the same of unexplained abbreviations, as did 23 per cent for “bad English”. Almost another half of evaluators said that these factors had “some” influence on their decisions.

People think it’s stories, but it’s all true – unclear language, use of platitudes, muddled meanings etc., it all influences the score even though it will never be written down in the evaluation report,” one evaluator said in a series of follow-up interviews.

Graphics are another way of making applications stand out, according to interviewed evaluators. “A good graphic visualising the concept is easier to keep in mind than two to four pages of text, when discussing the proposals at the consensus meetings,” the report suggests.

Almost all evaluators also admitted that they “quickly get an impression of proposal quality (after a few pages of reading or skimming various key elements of the proposal)”, the report found, although “all proposals get a thorough and fair treatment”.

Asked specifically about applications to the European Research Council for individual grants, evaluators said that applicants for starting grants – the most junior type of award – should be “clearly above average” and have a “few recent high-quality publications in high-ranking journals, and at least one as the primary investigator and author”.

For applications for consolidator and advanced grants – designed for more senior academics – researchers need to demonstrate that they are “still in business” by having “new strong scientific publications showing that they are still able to think new concepts and get new ideas”.

An applicant’s h-index – a metric that measures their average article citation count – is “not an important criterion”, evaluators say.


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