Many grant applications have page limits. They also often allow the writer to chose their preferred format for references.

Thus, I was wondering:

What is a good concise referencing system that minimises the impact of references on page count?

Equally, perhaps there are other considerations beyond being concise, such as readability or highlighting that an author on the paper is also an investigator on the grant. Or perhaps it's better to stick to the reference format dominant in your discipline?

My initial thoughts were:

  • Use numbered references rather than author (date) format
  • Use first author and then et al for other authors
  • Use abbreviated journal names
  • Show only first page number
  • A fairly significant consideration would be whether the funding body requires a specific reference formatting or not.
    – Anyon
    Sep 12, 2018 at 2:54
  • @Anyon Agreed. But assuming they haven't specified anything. Sep 12, 2018 at 5:12
  • If you are feeling extremely confident, you could only just list the doi numbers and as much information you can fit on a single line. I.e. first author, ellipsed title. Sep 12, 2018 at 8:18

2 Answers 2


Depending on whether the grant proposal is computer read only or not there is a possibility of hiding the References list from your MS Word (or some other word processing applications). Once clicked on, the References will pop up as a full list.

If the references have to be visible at all times, then the shortest way of referencing would be to use in-text numbered references. And in the end of the research proposal, you could change the font size/style to accommodate "more" space for your full references.

There are many different referencing styles (some more academic than others) but if the goal is to use up as little space as possible for the references then short form full references would work for you. A short googling session yielded this result for a short form citation style: http://anton.cromba.ch/2016/02/07/a-minimal-citation-stylefor-grant-proposals/

Another way of referencing to consider could be the under-line references on each page. That font style can be changed more before it begins to clash with the overall "style" of the document, making it possible to create very space efficient references. Although space efficient, some extra space is needed to accommodate the paragraph styles and readability.


Numbered references are probably the most concise format. With a page limit you are unlikely to need more than two digits for the reference number. Superscripted numbers1 or bracketed numbers [2] will mean you only need between one and four characters for the reference, that is from this3 to this [99].

Compare this with other styles that use names as they also then often need another indicator such as a year, and then you are already using more characters just for the year.

1 like this.
[2] or like this.
3 or this.
[99] you see where this is going...?

  • You're absolutely right. Just want to add this is making it "worse" for the reader so that should be factored into decision. Sep 12, 2018 at 14:42

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