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The Importance of an Abstract in Grant Applications


The Abstract is your grant proposal’s first impression, usually the most important part of your grant application. It is the less-than-a-minute chance you have to grab aabstract reviewer’s attention and develop interest in reading more. Based on the first few lines of the Abstract, most reviewers develop a positive or negative mindset about the proposal, and then look for evidence to support that initial opinion. Therefore, the Abstract is THEE most critical piece of the entire proposal and deserves a great deal of time and attention throughout the entire grant proposal writing process. Below are some points to help you in writing a strong Abstract.

Focus on Overall Impacts and Outcomes

The main key to a successful Abstract is to summarize the overall case for funding in a concise, compelling manner. To do so, an Abstract needs to lean heavily on overall impacts and outcomes far more than activities or processes.

 A successful Abstract should provide succinct answers to the following questions:

  • What problem are you addressing or what opportunity are you taking advantage of?

  • What demonstrable results will you achieve?

  • What specific goals and objectives will you attain?

  • How will you go about performing the work?

  • What aspects of your project will assure success?

  • How will your project stand out from other, similar work being done?

These questions should be answered using practical, nuts-and-bolts details, not in-depth project plans that will be showcased later in the proposal. Use high-level, summary numbers to quantify impacts and outcomes.

Consultant Bob Lucas, a former university research administrator who is now director of the Institute for Scholarly Productivity based in California says, "The problem [with most Abstracts] is that applicants don't summarize the full proposal.” Because the Abstract is the first glimpse a reader gets of an application's worth, such oversights can raise unnecessary questions, and may even create the impression that the research plan itself may be incomplete.

Keep Your Reviewers in Mind

Often a grant application is seen by several different reviewers at different levels. These reviewers may not even have the opportunity to read your entire proposal. Therefore, the Abstract must clearly connect with the funder’s mission and objectives, showing how the project will meet their goals. Use only plain English, no jargon or industry slang, to ensure every reviewer understands perfectly your goals and plans.

Overall, the reaction you want from the reviewers is two-fold: 1) this is an important project that serves our mission perfectly. It must be funded. 2) I want to read more about this.  Every sentence in your Abstract should be crafted to generate this reaction.

Write and Review, then Repeat

When to write the Abstract is up for discussion in the grant-writing industry. Some experts recommend composing the Abstract after your proposal is completed, by pulling the most significant sentences from each key writing section in the grant narrative.

However, at the we generally write the Abstract first, before the rest of the proposal. Quite often, we need the Abstract in order to present the project to potential collaborators and supporters anyway.  Then we keep reviewing and re-writing the Abstract during the proposal development. Before submission, we go back and review the proposal guidelines to make sure the Abstract meets all technical requirements. 

Abstracts are typically no longer than a single page  If you have difficulty getting under the length requirement, you are probably trying to say too much in the Abstract.

After you have completed your Abstract have several individuals review and provide feedback to see if you get the desired reaction. If you don’t, continue to rewrite until you do. This may force you to change aspects of your proposal, which in turn will strengthen the overall package. has made it easy for you to get started on your Abstract. We have created a Making the Case document, a guide designed to help anyone wanting to make grant proposals stronger from the ground up. To download this free document, click here. After you get started, if you need more direction or help with any part of your grant process, please contact us. As part of our free initial consultation, we can review your Abstract.


Photo credit: Sean MacEntee reserves the right to delete any comments that do not contribute useful questions or information, are direct advertisements, or are otherwise inappropriate.


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