Language use in grant applications: does it matter?
There is increasing inequality with respect to how the financial means are distributed among scholars. This is worrisome and leads to some frustrations. The tendency of a small group of scholars having large amounts of money at their disposal may hamper other research and obstruct the study of unconventional ideas and high risk research. The impact of this unequal distribution of funds is particularly felt by young scholars, who need financial support to start a scientific carrier. From a meta-research perspective it is interesting to identify the factors that contribute to a successful or unsuccessful grant application given the strong selection pressure. A better understanding of these factors may help to keep the application system fair and transparent.
Apparently, the use of words like ‘robust’, ‘novel’, ‘innovative’, and ‘unprecedented’ increases positive review feedback and hence results in successful publications.
In this project we want to look at how language use in grant proposals can be a potential factor to success. We know from previous meta-studies on scientific publications that scientists and scholars increasingly tend to exaggerate results and their impact. This coincides with peculiar changes in the language used to get studies published in peer-reviewed high impact journals. Publishing a paper in a high-impact journal can sometimes be as competitive as obtaining a competitive grant. ‘Survival mechanisms’ will likely overlap to some extent. A recent lexicographic analysis of a large sample of biomedical peer-reviewed publications identified an increase in absolute frequency of positive words from 2.0% to 17.5% in four decades time. The increase of negative and neutral (control) words was on the other hand stable over time. Apparently, the use of words like ‘robust’, ‘novel’, ‘innovative’, and ‘unprecedented’ increases positive review feedback and hence results in successful publications. We will look at succesful grant applications and see if they use different language, that is positive and negative words, and compare them to unsuccessful ones and examine how these differences in language use relate to review scores.