Usually, in the academic literature, the abstract offers a brief summary of a scientific research. It typically includes the questions the research addresses, results, and key conclusions. However, in the context of the prestigious and highly competitive ERC grant, the abstract, appearing in both the B1 document of the proposal and in the online submission form, is expected to present more than a standard recap of the project, and naturally excludes results and conclusions.
If you are planning to apply to the ERC, you’ll need to construct a representative abstract of your research project. To best understand the significant role of the ERC abstract, and what it should include, continue reading below.
The purpose of the ERC abstract
According to the official ERC documentation , the purpose of the abstract is to:
“…provide a clear understanding of the objectives of the research proposal and how they will be achieved. The abstract will be used as a short description of your research proposal in the evaluation process”.
Given the above, it becomes clear that the abstract’s main role is to introduce the key ideas underlying the project for the purpose of facilitating the proposal allocation and evaluation processes.
Additionally, and no less important, is the fact that the ERC abstract is the reader’s first meeting point with your project, and therefore contributes to the first impression readers will have of your proposal. As such, it is crucial to allocate significant thought and time in order to construct a well-structured and clear abstract that promotes a positive overall reaction to the project.
Essentially, the abstract is accessed at three different time intervals:
- The first evaluation stage
- The second evaluation stage and,
- If funded, once the project is published
Now let’s understand its role during each of the above-mentioned phases.
During the first evaluation stage, the abstract, along with the selected keywords and panel, assists the panel chairs in choosing the appropriate evaluation panel for that project. The panel chairs use the presented information in the abstract (along with the B1) to assess whether the proposal may need to be reallocated to a different panel. Once this allocation is finalized, the panel chairs use the abstract as an aid in assigning the proposal to specific members within the panel.
During the second stage of evaluation, the abstract is used for the process of selecting and recruiting external reviewers. The corresponding panel members send out the abstract to potential external experts, and request their involvement in reviewing the specific application. Therefore, the ERC abstract’s task is also to match and engage the best experts for external review of the application.
Finally, should the proposal be retained for funding, the PI can consent for the abstract to be published and serve as a reference for potential collaborators or additionally relevant individuals who may be interested in the research topic.
The technical aspects of the ERC abstract
Technically, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The character limit for the abstract is 2000 characters. It appears both in the B1 part of the proposal and in the first part of the online application form and should be textually identical in them both.
- There is no official prohibition to add a figure or an illustration to the abstract in the proposal document, however note that the online system does not allow this addition. Moreover, some reviewers may be antagonized by a large or too detailed image seeing it as bypassing of the page and character limit.
- The text of the abstract should not disclose any confidential information, as it will be published should the proposal be chosen for funding. Note though that once the project is retained for funding, the PI may be able change the published abstract.
The content of the ERC abstract
Overall, as a short representation of the complete ERC project, the abstract should align with the project’s description in the extended synopsis (B1) and in B2. In addition to this, there are a few important components to formulate a competitive abstract:
- Knowledge gap. First, upon introduction of the topic of your project, the main scientific gap at the heart of the project should be clarified. This can help to intrigue the reader, define the specific field to which the project belongs, and to demonstrate the novelty and the groundbreaking nature of the research with respect to the state of the art. A successful introduction of the knowledge gap will assist in directing the best reviewers to evaluate the proposal.
- Hypothesis. As thoroughly discussed in the hypothesis article: a hypothesis or novel theory is expected in an ERC project. It provides a resolution to the presented knowledge gap and helps further define the unique insights the project brings.
- Objectives and methodology. Naturally, the character limit does not allow for a long elaboration on the methodology. However, it is expected to include a few sentences specifying the plan to close the knowledge gap within the scope of the project. Consider including the main steps guiding the research and the means that will help achieve the objectives.
- High risk/High gain. These are two crucial features of any ERC project. Therefore, it is essential to include them in the abstract as well. Overall, while describing the idea of the project and its main conceptual and operational characteristics, it is important to convey a sense of uncertainty and refer to the high potential gain that comes along with it. In that sense, mentioning the expected outcomes upon the success of the project would be appropriate. Continue on to our dedicated high risk and high gain articles for more information on these important topics.
The abstract plays a key role in the allocation of the proposal to the best experts during the evaluation process and contributes to the first impression the reviewers have of your project. Also, it could be further useful to attract collaborators to broaden your scientific opportunities. Accordingly, it should be well-crafted and clearly phrased to increase the chances for a positive impression of any reader right from the beginning. For our ongoing assistance throughout your ERC proposal preparation process, discover our ERC Deep Dive service.