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Summary execution

The underappreciated art of summarising funding calls

Spotting and circulating funding opportunities is a big part of many research managers’ jobs, but putting it that way leaves out a vital step in the process: the sometimes tiresome but always essential work of summarising calls effectively so that researchers can quickly evaluate whether they might want to apply. 

How best to do this? To start with, you need to read any call you are going to summarise carefully, paying particular attention to what I call ‘minesweeping’—the identification of anything that might explode and sink a bid if not spotted and dealt with early. But summarising a funding call isn’t so much about defusing the mines as about identifying and drawing attention to them as part of the summary.

One size doesn’t fit all

You might think that a good approach to summarising funding opportunities would be to use a standard template. While I have hit on a rough structure that generally works, I’ve never yet found a simple template that’s suitable for summarising all calls. They’re just too diverse, and different researchers will need different elements highlighted.

I’ve drawn inspiration from the five Ws and one H: who, what, when, where, why and how. These questions focus the mind on only the most important information from the busy researcher’s perspective. And that’s key. We’re writing for a busy audience who are probably only skim-reading our summary. What’s more, our primary aim is not to draw readers in but to allow them to self-filter out. If there’s a reason this funding opportunity isn’t for them, I want to tell them as soon as possible.

Rough structure

I normally lead with a sentence or two covering the call title, the deadline (specifying if it’s for an outline), the amount of money available and the project duration. Many readers will filter themselves out based on one of these.

Next, I’ll try to say something about why this might be a good call to apply to, based on what I know about the researchers’ interests. If I’m writing to a researcher individually, I’ll probably try to pick out a key detail from the call or refer to a previous conversation or topic or research question that they’d mentioned to me.

Then, the opposite—why it might not be a good fit or why it might be difficult to apply. This is where it’s worth mentioning that they need partners from industry or from specific countries, or that they can’t cost in their overseas partners. Or that there’s only a small number of awards, or career stage eligibility restrictions, either stringent or vague.

Finally, I pick out the essential elements of the call remit and scope. I try to very briefly summarise these in a few key words in the opening section, and perhaps expand in either the positive or negative paragraph.

In the call documentation, there are usually a couple of paragraphs that outline the remit or call aims or themes. Sometimes the assessment criteria are the best guide to what the funder’s after, but other times those are bland and generic and best omitted at this stage. I’m usually looking for a section I can cut and paste, with no or minimal editing for clarity and brevity. With practice and experience, it’s possible to reliably identify the key section or sections (which may or may not be consecutive) that get to the heart of what the call is all about. Finding and including that section and putting it at the end of your summary rounds things off nicely.

Once you’ve done all that, it’s tempting to add in all the less important details. Resist that temptation. A competently written funding call will have a lot of moving parts and a lot of rules. At this stage, they would mostly just eat up everyone’s time and probably a fair amount of space.

Remember that you don’t need to rewrite the full call. Most funding calls include some waffle, and EU funding is the worst for it. It is the key elements that are the dealbreakers. Everything else can be read by curious researchers in the full call. Thanks to your summary, they’ll already know that this is a good use of their time.

Finishing touches

A well-written summary should conclude with two further pieces of information. First, it should include details of the full call, emphasising again that this is merely a summary. That could come via a link to the call page or by attaching the full call documents to the email.

Second, there needs to be what comms folk refer to as a ‘call to action’. What does the researcher interested in this opportunity do? Again, sometimes that’s obvious but sometimes you might be planning an internal briefing event or a networking and idea generation event, perhaps depending on levels of interest. Don’t miss this critical opportunity to plug that in your summary. 

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com