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Project Summary v. Project Narrative…samples included

Federal grant proposals require a Project Summary and a Project Narrative.  These two documents have very specific requirements; however, they are frequently confused and can introduce easily avoidable errors during the grant submission process.  Experienced grant writers know to give these short documents the time and consideration they deserve for inclusion in a quality proposal.

All information referenced in this post is available in the NIH SF424 Application Guide or from the NIH and NSF websites.cropped-cropped-toolkit-24157707-copy.jpg

What is the Project Summary?

The Project Summary is also known as an abstract.  It should be informative to the technically literate reader and include the objectives of your proposed project as well as the top level methodology that you plan to follow.

What is the Project Narrative?

The Project Narrative was once known as the Public Health Statement or Relevance Statement.  It should be written in plain language and understandable to a general, lay audience.  This is your opportunity to explain the relevance of your project to public health.

Why should I pay attention to the Project Summary and Project Narrative?

The Project Summary is the first thing reviewers and federal agency staff members read.  Program Officers choose reviewers based on the content of your Project Summary.  Many times, decisions about initial proposal reviews are based on project summaries alone.

The Project Narrative is written for the general, lay audience.  It is made public for all awarded projects.  Potential funders often read Project Narratives to determine if a project fits with their mission and is worthy of their consideration for additional support.

Both NIH and NSF stress the importance of including a well-written and meaningful Project Summary and Project Narrative in a proposal.  To give you a sense of how important the federal agencies consider these documents, check out the following from the NSF website:

“The project summary (abstract) is the first thing that reviewers and NSF staff read. It should be written clearly and concisely. In the space allotted, it should outline the problem, the objectives and the expected outcomes, project activities, and the audience to be addressed. The project summary must also clearly address in separate statements the intellectual merit of the proposed activity and the broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity. Proposals that do not separately address both merit review criteria within the project summary will be returned without review. Program Directors use the summary to choose reviewers for the proposal. It is also the reviewers’ introduction to the project. NSF publishes an abstract of the project should it be funded. Considerable effort and thought should be spent in preparing a well-written summary.”

Any suggestions for writing?

  • Use the third person point of view
  • Follow standard font and margins guidelines
  • Make suitable for publication
  • AVOID WRITING AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR  Deadline pressures prior to the submission of a proposal are often intense and make writing new content effectively difficult at best.  Draft the content after you have written your Specific Aims and then modify as needed.  Inexperienced grant writers frequently assume the Project Summary and Project Narrative are quick to write because they are brief; however, given their importance during review, take enough time to write them thoughtfully and concisely.  Remember that your full proposal may not even be read if the Project Summary does not adequately reflect your work or is poorly written.  

Do you have samples of a Project Summary and a Project Narrative?

NIAID has generously provided samples of grant applications for educational purposes:

Sample Project Summary

Sample Project Narrative

How do I remember these details?

See the table below as a quick reference including salient points:

Project Summary v. Project Narrative_Page_1

Project Summary v. Project Narrative_Page_2