Sharpening Your Focus: Proposal Innovation

March 4, 2019
icon of magnifying glass with puzzle pieceThe Innovation section of grant proposals is often the shortest section, but sometimes the most difficult to write. For one, it’s not always clear what “innovation” means, and if a proposed project is too cutting-edge, reviewers may be skeptical of feasibility. 

NIH provides the following guidance for Innovation:

  • Does the application challenge or seek to shift the current research or clinical paradigms?
  • Describe any novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation or interventions to be developed or used, and any advantages over existing practices.
  • Are any of the above novel to your field, or novel in a broad sense?

NIAID warns new PIs (or PIs in a new field) to be “cautious about seeming too innovative.” If there’s a paradigm shift in this scientific area, a reviewer “may take a challenge to the status quo as challenge to [their] world view.”

Some tips for tackling Innovation:

  • Limit the section to 1/3 to ½ page in length
  • Focus on one big or a few smaller innovations, but avoid a laundry list
  • Start by explaining existing strategies, and why they have limitations or are unsatisfactory
  • Summarize the advancements that are likely to be possible with this new approach/concept/tool, that would probably not have been possible without this innovation

While your Specific Aims page will describe your project’s impact, think of impact in two parts. The impact your work will have on addressing an NIH-relevant problem is its Significance. But the impact your work will have on your scientific field (e.g., is unique, explores new scientific avenues, or will create new knowledge) is its Innovation.

Sharpening Your Focus: Tips on Grant Proposal Preparation is a series of tips published in Medical School Research News about proposal preparation. Written by Jill Jividen, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Research Development, you can view the full archive of articles here.