Academic Funding

NSF Clarifies Policy on Award Abstracts and Titles

June 5, 2014 2554

Abstract buttonOn May 29, the National Science Foundation issued an Important Notice to Presidents of Universities and Colleges and Heads of Other National Science Foundation Awardee Organizations. An NSF notice in December announced a focus on transparency and accountability, one piece of which is “improving public understanding of our funding decisions through our award Abstracts and Titles.” In this vein, the current announcement clarifies the NSF policy on award abstracts and titles.

“NSF abstracts are the public face of NSF investments and decision-making,” notes the foundation’s deputy director, Cora B. Marrett, “and they can be used to immediately address a specific area of interest from those outside of the NSF regarding what projects are supported and why.” By providing the public with a clear understanding of each project, scientists can best convey the value and excitement of their research.

From the announcement (the full notice is HERE):

“An NSF award abstract, with its title, is an NSF document that describes the project and justifies the expenditure of Federal funds.

There are two major components of the NSF Abstract:

  • A nontechnical description of the project that states the problem to be studied, and explains the project’s broader significance and importance, that serves as a public justification for NSF funding. This component should be understandable to an educated lay reader. It may include such information as the theoretical or analytical foundation of the proposed research, the fundamental issues that may be resolved by the research, the project’s relation to NSF’s mission, the project’s place in the context of ongoing research in the field, the project’s potential impact on other fields, and the prospect that it will lead to significant advances or the integration of related lines of inquiry.
  • A technical description of the project that states the goals and scope of the research, and the methods and approaches to be used. In many cases, the technical description may be a modified version of the project summary submitted with the proposal.”

The titles of NSF supported projects must describe the research purpose in “nontechnical terms to the fullest possible extent.” The NSF award Abstract for a broad audience is likely to differ from the Project Summary that is part of the technically reviewed proposal.


Christine Cameron is the executive director of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences.

View all posts by Christine Cameron

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