Header image

john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

Photo Credit: EvelynGiggles (Flickr) CC-BY 2.0

NSF grants track language used in abstracts

Hmm… this is interesting from David Markowitz: “Text analysis of thousands of grant abstracts shows that writing style matters”.

Two other results were telling about the NSF data. First, using fewer common words was associated with receiving more award funding, which is inconsistent with the NSF’s call and commitment to plain writing.
Second, the amount of award funding was related to the writing style of the grant. Prior evidence suggests that we can infer social and psychological traits about people, such as intelligence, from small “junk” words called function words. High rates of articles and prepositions, for example, indicate complex thinking, while high rates of storytelling words such as pronouns indicate simpler thinking.
NSF grant abstracts with a simpler style – that is, grant abstracts that were written as a story with many pronouns – tend to receive more money. A personal touch may simplify the science and can make it relatable.

Correlation is not causation, standard exceptions apply, your mileage may vary.