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This is referring mainly to the European setting, but of course perspectives from other academic systems are welcome.

For grant proposals (let's say ERC Starting Grant level), it is important to make credible that you're planning cutting-edge research in a relevant area that deserves funding. One way of ascertaining this is by pointing out that there is a multitude of projects that tackle related questions that are funded in the same program. The argument against this would be that it makes your project seem less novel, which is an other central evaluation criterion.

I'm leaning towards citing as many related proposals as possible, as long as it is clear that the questions targeted in the proposed project are still open and the methods are visibly distinct from what has been attempted before (e.g. because the PI has developed them themselves recently).

I have heard very mixed things from colleagues on this, and I wonder if there is someone who has deeper insights into how this is usually perceived by reviewers / the grant agencies.

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  • Are the other proposals public, do the reviewers have access to them? Wouldn't it be easier to just cite published papers from the respective groups?
    – user178392
    Oct 22, 2023 at 18:48
  • Abstracts are public. Citing papers wouldn't accomplish the same thing. If I want to say: Look, this area is vibrant and important on a level appropriate for highly competitive funding, the best argument I can make is that significant funds did go to that area. Oct 24, 2023 at 6:09

2 Answers 2

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Speaking as both a recipient and a reviewer, your ERC reviewers (both the committee and the expert reviewers) want to see how your proposed research is unique, interesting, transformative, high-risk/high-reward, blue skies, etc. Simply citing as much existing research doesn't accomplish that. You need to make this all about you and your project. Make the existing research work for you.

The goal should be to introduce other/existing research and projects in order to directly explain your unique position and define your important research gap. They are contrast tools for you to use to help the reader see your unique vision and imagine the potential impact of your work. That's it!

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  • This sounds very sensible. Thanks for your insights. Oct 24, 2023 at 6:10
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There's proving you have good ideas, and there's proving you can act and follow through on those good ideas. A grant appl8cant needs to do both.

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