What’s in a name?: towards the development of a novel analysis of grant titles

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about how I’m going to be responsible for helping all trainees in my new department identify, apply for, and manage their awards (comment on my post, you bastards please!). I’ve spent some time since then exporting all trainee award entries in our comprehensive grants database – which contains every funding application of any kind submitted by anyone affiliated with our department since before 2007 – into an Excel spreadsheet for ease of analysis. While I was engaged in this thrilling necessary exercise, I spotted some patterns in the first few words of the grant titles (the field by which all database entries are sorted by default). I therefore spent some time last night (hooray for VPN!) doing a quick-and-dirty analysis* of all database entries (i.e. not just the trainee awards) by status (successful, unsuccessful, pending), and pulled out all title first words that showed up more than once in any category.

I ignored excessively field-specific words (a lot of our grants start with Genomic / Genetic / Molecular / Personalised etc.), and lumped different forms of the same word together – so, for example, all grants starting with “The evaluation of”, “Evaluation of”, and “Evaluating” are grouped together as “Evaluation”.




























NB there are ~25% more unsuccessful than successful grants in the database**, with a much smaller number of pending applications.


grant titles

Some unique entries that caught my eye:

  • Concerted (successful)
  • Deciphering (successful)
  • INTERROGATION (yes, in all caps – unsuccessful)
  • Multidisciplinary (unsuccessful)
  • Seeking (unsuccessful. Maybe they should have used Desperately Seeking?)
  • Stratifying (successful)
  • Unraveling (unsuccessful)

I’d be interested to see how this analysis varies by field and country…

Do you have a favoured first word or more general structure for your grant application titles?

Do you think it’s better to stand out with a unique title, or to use a more standard title structure?


*no grants in the database start with the words “Quick-and-dirty analysis”, sadly.

**this isn’t an accurate reflection of the overall success rate as there may have been some selective backfilling of pre-2007 grants. The rate is getting more and more accurate over time though, as every grant is now captured.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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23 Responses to What’s in a name?: towards the development of a novel analysis of grant titles

  1. On a peripherally related topic, I queried the Canadian Research Information System yesterday for grants that my favourite PI is involved in. Copying and pasting from the resulting webpage table resulted in a distastrously messed up hodgepodge of formatting that looks a lot like your “padding text” above.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      mine was deliberate, though.

      At least that site’s working (in a limited way) now… I was trying to use it last week and kept getting 404 errors.

  2. Bob O'H says:

    So, a grant entitled Deciphering Concerted Improvements Towards Linking Mechanisms would have a pretty good chance.

  3. Beth says:

    As an Evaluation Specialist, it saddens me greatly that all the applications that started with the word “evaluation” were unsuccessful. =(

  4. chall says:

    All articles I’ve written that have had ‘mechanism’ in the title or abstract have had [imho anecdotal of course and it’s not like the article number is going to be statistically significant anyway, but it’s so fun to make these extra-polarity comments….] easier times in the reviews 😉

    So, have you thought about doing another graph where the words are in “percentage” since the green/red is a little hard to actually calculate? I see that Linking and Improvement have 100% success rate, and Mechanism seems to be about 70% and Functional 50-50 or 40/60? I agree that I might be slightly off kilter here, since I’m having to calculate the % success, CV, variables and degrees of freedom right now so I am slighthly number crazy…

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      I’d definitely like to compare manuscript and grant titles – I suspect that the structures are different, but that word choice is less important for manuscripts (except maybe at the top tier journals?)

      I did think about doing percentages, but this was easier ;-p

  5. steffi suhr says:

    So, now you can form a hypothesis on which words in the title might increase funding success, how are you going to test it?

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      develop an improved title function?

      • I see an opportunity for an iPhone app that generates sure-to-be-funded grant titles based on your input keywords (or maybe just by examining your existing publications from PubMed).

        Hm, Genome Canada has a bioinformatics competition going on right now… do you think developing such an app would count?

        • There’s no harm* in applying!

          *no physical harm, anyway. The effects on your stress levels and other indicators of mental health may in fact be harmful.

  6. Robyn Roscoe says:

    Could a further analysis consider the success/failure rate of grants where the title becomes an acronym? I’ve seen (and sadly been party to) some amazing linguistic feats to conjure an acronym for a project title, but have never been convinced that it is worthwhile.

    • Argh. Certain disciplines (Computer Science, e.g.) are really, really guilty of this. And particularly of the most egregious form of acronym – the one with lower AND upper case letters in it. Argh.

      I was amused that in the most recent round of Genome Canada Letters of Intent, there was a project proposing an acronym already in use by an existing GC project. One that you’re familiar with. 🙂

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