In the Foolproof Grant Template I ask for an opening sentence or two that quickly engages the reader on the “big topic” of the research.
My clients have a terrible time grasping what that opening should look like. They’ve been so disciplined through grad training to think in terms of research and citation, that they cannot easily step back to remember that there is an ISSUE that precedes scholarly argumentation about the issue.
This issue exists in the world at large–the world OUT HERE, the one not in your or your advisor’s head.
I absolutely forbid clients from opening a grant with the dreaded line “My/this research/dissertation is about… ” because in my view that is the most myopic of all openings, the most insular and self-absorbed, and indifferent to the wants and needs of the reading public.
Consider these four opening sentences:
“My dissertation is about declining polar bear populations.”
“I am applying to the XXX fellowship to support my dissertation, which is on declining polar bear populations.”
“Many scientists in the field of environmental studies have been debating the causes of polar bear population decline.”
“Polar bear populations are plummeting due to recent changes in the climate.”
Only the last actually rises up to state the ISSUE–the topic at hand that precedes any and all debates or arguments or minutiae, and inspires the reader to take notice.
Yes, if you continued in that vein, it could move into a kind of journalistic sensationalism, but you don’t. You’re a scholar, and in sentence #2 and #3 of the template, you immediately introduce the scholarly works in the two most important fields that have addressed this issue. And then move on to describe a gap and the scholarly project that addresses that gap.
Grant-writing is, let it not be forgotten, PR. You are selling a project, and the reader needs to buy it.
You do that by remembering that we live in a world of big issues. This is true even when your work is on a relatively obscure topic—e.g. 14th century Japanese Buddhist iconography, compositional structure in early modern opera— when it is one meaningful in your particular field. Big is a relative term. But however big is defined in your field, it is the big issue that inspires us to keep reading.