Sharpening Your Focus: Making Impactful Statements About Your Research Impact

January 31, 2020
icon of magnifying glass with puzzle pieceRegardless of sponsor or program, research impact plays a critical role in the grant world. Grant proposals should not only demonstrate brilliant ideas and peer-acknowledged methodologies, but present as highly aligned with targeted sponsor’s mission. Often, how to effectively present your research impact and convince funders that they should support your projects is not given deliberate attention. There are elements of the proposal that deserve that extra look.

What you have done (retrospective): Reviewers expect to see you have made an advancement in your field, evidenced by track record (e.g., publications, awards, membership and/or leadership in professional societies, etc.). The Biosketch is the key document to reflect these achievements. For example, when applying to the NIH, Section C. Contributions to Science is the place to showcase your career’s highlights. Use metrics that make sense for each contribution, such as citation count, H-index, Relative Citation Ratio, journal impact factor, or mentions by news and social media.

What you will do (prospective): In addition to clearly laying out your compelling research hypothesis and well-planned experiments, do stress the anticipated significant impact in your field and on general human health, but perhaps more importantly the alignment of the proposed work to what the sponsor has specifically indicated they hope to fund.

Ideally, for both the retrospective and prospective narratives, in-depth elaboration is presented in the research plan (e.g., NIH Research Strategy). Taking NIH applications as an example, below is a summary of some key points.


  Retrospective Prospective
  • To demonstrate track record
  • To justify significance
  • ·To validate feasibility
  • To align with sponsor’s funding mission
  • To advance/gain knowledge in the field
  • To benefit human health


Contributions to Science – use metrics wisely

Research Strategy

  • Significance – describe scientific premise based on your work (as well as others’)
  • Approach – employ established techniques that are published and/or patented

Specific Aims

Impact statement – anticipated accomplishments should be in line with the sponsor’s mission

Research Strategy

  • Significance – explain how the proposed project will advance your field
  • Innovation – show novelty and expected paradigm-shifting outcomes