Another post on log frame was basically saying one simple thing: make sure there is a clear logical flow of ideas and causal linkages up and down the layers of the project plan. And it suggested a quick way of achieving this level of transparency and simplicity by using a boiled down log frame template and clear categories for thinking about the ideas in the project plan. To create an easy-to-read project description is obviously a good thing to do and needs very little justification and argument – it is one of the few things that are self-evidently and always true about writing with the purpose of winning money.
To drive home the idea of just how important it is to get the logic right and to present the ideas in a simple logical cascade it is worth glancing quickly at the very considerable body of research in discourse and genre analysis about how scientists read; and yes, there is research done into this apparently arcane but actually important topic which in fact has significant consequences. For example, if we see how reading is done at a very fine grain of resolution we might understand something more about effective science writing, including proposal writing, which is a critical tool for scientific advancement – as much for ideas as for the careers of research staff.
The world of research about research writing and reading may be new and perhaps not immediately interesting to readers of this blog searching for some ‘how to’ tips. So I will try to focus on one or two ideas here and draw out some of the rest of this body of work in later posts. I should add that all this research is carried out on reading of journal articles and I am making the not unreasonalbe assumption that the same applies to other types of reading too including proposals as the habits formed in the continual consumption of journal articles are very likely to inform all other professional reading.
Overall, researchers have described a general tendency in research reading and writing which indicates that they have become quite similar to the way people read and write newspapers. In general, readers search quickly and not sequentially for the most newsworthy information. The research goes on to claim that science writing is taking on more of the conventions of news reports and that surprise value has become more important, titles more informative, section headings and sub-headings more frequent (I spend a lot of time with researchers working out how avoid unbroken blocks of text), visual aids more ‘rhetorically focused’ (which links back to a previous blog post of the role of graphics in these proposals and how hard they need to work) and ‘methodology sections are de-emphasised’ (this I think is built into the ERC proposal structure with its focus on objectives over methods as the real battle ground for winners and losers)1
If this is the case across common types of scientific writing then the objectives oriented planning using log frame stands proposers to the ERC in very good stead as it is very much like the upside down pyramid or BLUF (bottom line up front) writing methods used in journalism with it focus on the newsworthy aspects of the work i.e., on differences, effects and benefits above all else to sell the project. It would also imply that the high numbers of proposals that don’t get much beyond the description of resources and activities will find it very hard to make the kind of impact on the reader that they are commonly looking for now in science literature. So, we need to be aiming at open, high impact and ‘newsy’ writing to meet general expectations of how scientific texts should now look and read.
Another reason that log frame and the coherence and transparency that it brings to proposals when properly used in the writing process is so useful is that readers are known not to read thoroughly or sequentially but rather to jump from section to section searching for ideas that leap off the page to accomplish a particular job. They are basically looking for what is new and using log frame is one very good way of giving them precisely this as the ‘new’ in ERC projects is encapsulated in the project objectives which is the main focus of log frame planning. In other words, they are both objectives-oriented phenomena and link into each other very well in this respect. I also think that as a jumping and scanning reader can’t be relied upon to pick up the messages the writer is trying to get across, the coherence and simplicity and the tightness of the links that are created by using logical framework is very helpful in ensuring that ideas get across under pressure. An ideal proposal would be one where a pressurised and indifferent reader (in both senses of the word here) can land on a paragraph and see not only what it is saying but also how it links up and down the logic to the other key aspects of the argument being developed. The aim should be to get the reader to see what the material being read is about but also how it is new and challenging and, critically, how it links back up the breakthrough objectives. This is particularly the case in the B1 section which needs to be very carefully crafted, where every word counts and must be doing a particular job and where you cannot afford to lose the reader’s attention even for a moment.
And not only are readers scanning and reading non-sequentially but they are also reading with a grid of ideas in the forefront of their minds to get their job done as quickly and effectively as possible. I’ll borrow the term from Bazerman’s work on physicists reading physics papers and say that they have a ‘purpose laden schema’ through which they try to accomplish this job and get through the pile and find the fundables.2 And it is my very strongly held view that the key part in this schema, the most important part of all is newness and challenges captured in the objectives. If there is one thing the reader is likely to have in mind it will be asking the simple question of ‘where are we in this field and how far forward is this project promising to take us?’ and I suggest they are likely to be reading the texts to find this out. And I also suggest that the best way to answer this question is by using objectives oriented planning i.e., log frame to give them exactly this story as the unmistakeable headline of the proposal.
So, quickly to review this quite complex and large topic I think thats objectives oriented project planning using log frame is extremely useful when undertaking this job because: 1 – it foregrounds the news aspects of the work, focuses on novelty in a general context in which readers are increasingly used to searching for this in their reading of science literature; 2 – the coherence and transparency it brings to the work allows the reader to stay ‘on message’ despite the fact that we know that they are not reading in the order that we might expect, and; 3 – it fits perfectly well with the grid of concepts that the reader will be bringing to bear on this reading task i.e., it foregrounds the objectives, the breakthroughs and benefits above all else. Log frame, then, I am convinced will make the text open to quick, accurate and fair reading while shining the light very clearly on the parts that make a difference.
- See, e.g., Huckin, T.N. (1993). “Surprise value in scientific discourse”. Paper presented at the 9th European Symposium on Languages for Special Purposes, Bergen, 2-6 August.).
- Bazerman C. Physicists reading physics: schema-laden purposes and purpose-laden schema. Written Communication 1985;2: 3-24. Reprinted in Bazerman C. Shaping written knowledge. The genre and activity of the experimental article in science. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Press; 1988.