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Editorial Checklist and Components and Tips for Project Plans
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Document Transfer

Transfer of peer review documents from Area Offices.  All versions of the project plans should be sent electronically to OSQR as PDF files (preferred) or Word documents. Hard copies are not required.  The project plan should include all appendices and letters of collaboration.

EXCEPTION: for the post project plan, a hardcopy of the signature page with the Area Director's original signature must be sent to OSQR.


The ARS Response to Reviewer's Recommendations must be sent electronically to OSQR as a word document.


File Names

All documents should have the national program number, lead scientist, project number, and the document title in the file name. Please see below for examples:

PDRAM: 303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D

Conflicts of Interest List: 303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D COI

PrePlan: 303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D Preplan

PrePlan Appendices: 303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D Preplan-App

PostPlan: 303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D PostPlan

Re-Review Plan:  303 Smith 1234-56789-000-00D ReReview Plan


If the scientist updates their COI List, then follow the file naming as above but insert the current date. For example, 303 Smith 303 1234-56789-000-00D COI List (Updated 3-7-13)


No dates in the file names unless it is the updated COI list.


Project Plan Checklist and Components and Tips

Lead scientists are responsible for writing project plans for their prospective research in accordance with the peer review scheduled designated for their primary national program. They must create a plan that displays scientific merit, creativity, and excellence. Success in writing a plan depends on attention to production of a clear, understandable, and logical flow through the written document. The project plan should be a seamless and clear presentation of the work to be undertaken.


Well-crafted project plans cannot be prepared overnight. They must be clear, thoughtful narratives that convey the objectives and experimental plans for work in a way that showcases the unique expertise of the project team. Preparation of plans is a team effort that requires care and attention equal to that needed to write peer-reviewed manuscripts or competitive research proposals.


Characteristics of a good project plan:

There are several things common to high-scoring project plans. Excellent plans: clearly state the problem(s) to solve or question(s) being addressed.


Demonstrate that the work proposed is important, and show that new technology or important fundamental knowledge will result.


Demonstrate familiarity with the underlying science, relevant literature, and awareness of other work. Show how the studies fit into the bigger picture, and how past accomplishments of the team serves as a guide for this project. Identify major customers, and make clear connections within ARS and the broader scientific community.


Review relevant literature focusing on elucidating the gaps that the research will address.


For objectives, provide a clear conceptual framework highlighting their relationship to one another and illustrating (perhaps with a diagram) how each objective and the members of the research team are integrated.


Clearly describe what will be done, by whom, and what will result; and will contain clear, concise contingencies to employ if initial approaches proceed faster, slower, or differently than planned.


Use illustrations (figures, schemes, etc.) to help explain the plan. In some cases, preliminary data or results may be shown.


Establish the necessary experience and qualifications of the participating scientists, and that required human resources, facilities and equipment are available.  Plans and timelines for filling scientific vacancies should be presented.


Show that necessary facilities and equipment are on hand or planned.


Document linkages with other scientists (collaborators), and will effectively utilize expense, databases, etc. from ARS or the larger scientific community.


Show awareness of other's work (within ARS and outside) and show how the studies fit into the bigger picture; identify customers.


Are easy to read and well-crafted with no typographical errors, sentence fragments, misspellings, or poor grammar.  (Poorly proofread plans may receive low scores).


Avoids undefined use of agency or other jargon (especially acronyms!).  Remember that reviewers may not be familiar with "ARS shorthands."  (Don't assume for example, that the reader understands the difference between an NP, an NPL, a PDRAM and an AD...or even which of these designate people).


Project Plan Checklist

The following checklist is intended as a guide in the development of a project plan.  Additional information can be found at [link to plan instructions&format]


General preparation:

••        Read the Handbook.

••        Attend web-based training provided by the Office of Scientific Quality Review (OSQR) for your National Program.  You will receive information about this before you receive your Program Direction and Resource Allocation Memo (PDRAM).


Preliminary Planning after Receiving the PDRAM:

••        Prepare the draft project plan with instructions and due date provided by your Area Office.

••        Note deadlines and allow sufficient time for thorough internal review and revision.

••        Update conflicts of interest list (if necessary).

••        Confirm collaborations with current or potential collaborators. The body of your plan (in Approach and Research Procedures) will need to show how these fit into the work and a letter confirming their role and commitment will need to be appended to the final plan. Where appropriate a Memorandum of Understanding or Specific Cooperative Agreement may be provided in place of a letter to document the collaboration.


Project Plan Development:  This process should begin with discussion about the PDRAM, but no later than after its receipt. It is important that the plan present a clear path through the research that documents the contribution of the team and collaborators.


••        Send your draft plan to colleagues for informal review. Plan to have a draft plan several weeks early to allow time for review by colleagues, associates, and line management; and to provide sufficient opportunity for revision.

••        Provide plan to line management in sufficient time for their review and sign-off. Areas will provide deadlines for accomplishing this and to allow for revisions that may be requested.

••        Thoroughly proofread plans.  The most frequent problems with low-scoring plans relates to lack of clarity, poor, or awkward writing. Allow time to assure that your plan presents a clear and readily understood path.


Internal/Informal Peer Review:   Examine your plan for clarify of presentation and seek review by others to assure that it is a clear, easily understood, presentation. The most successful project plans are those that have been examined by others, both inside and outside the Agency prior to submission.


Review of the project plan by colleagues helps to ensure the plan is clearly written, experiments are adequately described, and state-of-the-art approaches and techniques are proposed. Panel members often cite project plans written by multiple scientists as lacking a "seamless" approach. If necessary, you may alter the general format of the plan (without eliminating requested information) to produce a more readable draft. In particular, plans with several objectives or sub-objectives may be better served by an organization that brings together the background and approach for groups of related portions so that reviewers are not required to find disparate places spread throughout your plan.


The Reviewer's Perspective


Project Summary:  This sets the first impression of the plan and is read first. Write it last-after the plan is complete. It should capture the take home message of your plan: Your problem, how it will be addressed, and the expected impact. It should be understandable to a broad audience.


Objectives:  Reviewers look to see why the project includes the stated objectives and how they relate and are integrated in the project. This is particularly important if one objective appears very different. Reviewers expect there is a unifying reason to put these together.  If unsure why, they assume researchers do not know either.


Need for Research - 1 page maximum in most cases:  In general, panels have found too much space devoted to this and insufficient space given to the 'Approach and Research Procedures'. Reviewers know that if your project falls within the National Program Action Plan, it is relevant and justified. Consequently, there is no need for lengthy justification.


Scientific Background - 5 to 6 pages:  The reviewers will have a copy of the relevant Action Plan. Do not repeat what was already outlined earlier.  This should not be a comprehensive literature review of the field.  Cite sufficient current and past literature to put your project plan into a meaningful context of how your research will 'fill a gap'.  Provide enough discussion of the literature so that a peer in your field of science can conclude you are up-to-date with regard to knowledge and technological development in your field.  It is helpful to present preliminary results or progress in development of methods. This type of information supports the feasibility of the plan.  It may be useful to use diagrams, photos or tables. This section is also where you discuss the ongoing complementary research of others. This section includes results of the CRIS Search, describing the most relevant projects. Provide a sentence or two describing how your project complements and is not redundant with the cited project (Discussion of CRIS search). Finally, mention any Congressional mandates or patents (yours or others), if applicable.


••        Describe what is known and not known.

••        Provide a perspective of how your research fits within the field.

••        Describe why it is essential to fill a gap.

••        This is not a comprehensive literature review. Cite only the most relevant literature.

••        Use illustrations, photos, tables to enhance the appearance of the plan (up to 2 pages of illustrative information that does not count towards the page limit).

••        Include prior or preliminary results (preliminary results can also be included in the "Approaches and Procedures" section).

••        Describe the unique features of your research, but also explain how it complements ongoing research of others.


Approach and Procedures:

This is the core of the project plan, and most could benefit from more attention to this section. In general, more detailed experimental designs are needed than are often provided. Be careful about providing too much detail for some experiments and only cursory information for others. The goal is to demonstrate that you can address and achieve the stated objectives.


In brief, this section should tell who is going to do what, how they are going to do it, and when they are going to do it. Human and physical resources available for each objective should be described. Make it clear that sufficient technical and scientific support is available to carry out the work.  This includes numbers and training of technicians, students, postdoctoral scientists, and collaborators. If there is a Category 1 vacancy, describe the scientific background of the scientist(s) that will be hired and how that background will support the project. Document availability of any substantial physical resources that is necessary for the project (e.g., electron microscope, etc.).


General tips on the experimental plan:

••        If methods are new, provide enough detail to evaluate.

••        If it is unclear that an investigator has the capability to carry out a given procedure (e.g., lack of publications in the area), provide additional information to give reviewers confidence in the investigator's chances of success.

••        If one method is chosen over another (especially if it is unusual or "high risk", explain why it is selected.

••        If special equipment, facilities or expertise is required, clearly document that these are in place.

••        Carefully consider contingencies if work proceeds faster, slower, or differently.

••        Collaborative arrangements should be clearly explained, and the role(s) of the collaborator defined. These are supported by appended letters from collaborators. The collaborator's letters should tell what they intend to do and how much of their time they intend to devote to the collaboration. Relevant expertise should be included in the collaborator's letter. (Vague, general letters that speak only about the respect of the individual for the research team are not useful).


Physical and Human Resources:  Physical and human resources that are available to the project help the project review team understand the capabilities that the project has available.  This section should include the unique equipment or research sites required for the studies, technical support resources including any training needed to accommodate new techniques. SY vacancies and their expertise.


Project Management and Evaluation:  This section should briefly describe how the project will be managed, e.g., project team meetings, decision process for making changes, or discussions with collaborators. It is especially important when reviewers consider large projects.


Milestones Table - 1-3 pages, does not count again page limit:  This is a brief timetable for the project that illustrates your project plan.  Reviewers look here to understand your plan through the project. Be aware that the Milestones stated her may change as work proceeds.


Project Plan Revision and Response to the Review:  Upon receiving the peer review results, meet with the research team and develop reasonable and professional responses to recommendations. NOTE: if the project plan receives a 'major revision' or 'not feasible' action class rating, consult first with management and ONP to determine the next steps.


••        Develop a final revised plan in accordance with instructions (see Chapter 3 in OSQR Handbook).

••        Address each area where an "ARS Response Box" is found in the Panel Recommendations Form received from OSQR.

••        Make appropriate changes to your project plan in Bold.

••        If revision includes changes to the plan objectives, contact ONP as a new PDRAM may be required.

••        Secure line management approval of your revised plan.

••        Upon receiving a certification from OSQR, the Program Analyst will coordinate the creation of the new ARS Research Project (AD-416/417).