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I am asking in regards to the European Union ERC grants but this could apply to any grant application with no set guidelines for references formatting.

The ERC guideline states: "Please use a reference style that is commonly used in your discipline such as American Chemical Society (ACS) style, American Medical Association (AMA) style, Modern Language Association (MLA) style, etc. and that allows the evaluators to easily retrieve each reference"

Two of these are numeric the third is the author name (Smith et al. 2020). Personally I don't think the numeric citation style allows for "easily retrieve" because it requires to go back and forth between text and references. In my discipline there is no commonly used style, but I have seen often the numeric style used to save space in grant applications.

Do grant reviewers prefer name style citations? Will they get annoyed by the numeric style or should I assume that everybody uses them so there will be no penalty for using it?

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    As the question correctly says, the answer depends on the discipline. It also depends on personal preferences. "Classic" is not a citation style. Dec 28 '21 at 14:39
  • Citation style may also be determined by the application's software limitations. Some might only allow plain text, so you have to do the citations manually. Dec 28 '21 at 14:41
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I have removed "classic", you understood what I meant, no? In any case as I have mentioned there's no preferred citation style in my discipline. Dec 28 '21 at 15:36
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I have reviewed for ERC (and for other funding bodies).

Your choice of referencing style is very unlikely to make any difference to the evaluation of your proposal, considered on its own. But although this is a minor style point, it may be correlated with other presentational factors that reviewers will notice -

  • Style which is not conventional for your discipline may give the impression that you are not conversant with the field.
  • Unclear presentation will make it harder for readers to understand what you are proposing.

The material supplied to ERC reviewers gives quite close guidance about what reviews can say, as well as specific prompts that are vital to the success of the application (e.g. "does the proposed research address important challenges?"). Citation style, or style in general, is not asked about.

But I would say it does have an effect on the state of mind of a reviewer - imagine especially somebody who is short of time and trying to finish their work before the deadline. If it is easy for them to read and digest the proposal, then they will be more able to identify positive features within it and write a good summary. If they have to do more work to figure out what your idea is all about, then you may find that reviews miss (what you considered to be) the point, and come out less favorable in the end. So it is a good idea to give reviewers something in the format they expect, and where the writing is as clear as possible.

If your area really has no firm preference, then I would say to use your best judgement, don't overthink it, and use the rest of your thinking time on polishing the proposal content itself.

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I am pretty sure that virtually no grant reviewer bases her/his assessment on the citation style you use as long as it is consistent throughout the document, includes all necessary information and is common enough in your field. A numbered citation style makes it easy enough to find the sources. This is more a question of personal preferences.

You might rather consider to include something like titles or DOIs into the references which can be used directly in a web search if you want to optimize the accessability aspect.

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Note that grants are typically reviewed by subject experts just as journal papers are. The reviewers aren't likely employees of the funding agency, but outside experts.

So, the "easily review" statement means that the likely reviewers should find the references to be just as those otherwise used in that particular field. What you think of as easy and what a reviewer will be familiar and comfortable with might not be well aligned.

It isn't a prejudice for one over the other by the agency, but an attempt to ease the work of reviewers who may "expect" things to be familiar. Follow the advice.

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