I am preparing a grant application for personal funding to carry out a 3-year project. The topic is in the field of computational condensed matter, and the work will focus on i) method development, ii) computational implementation, and iii) application of method/code to interesting systems.

I think it's easier to bring across some points by (light) use of equations, but I'm not sure if the reviewers will frown upon it. The committee members should be either experts in the particular subfield or at least fairly familiar with it (i.e., it's not a multidisciplinary committee).

This website for instance states that

[...] the best proposals contain no equations at all!

So, is it a good idea to include equations in a research proposal or should I strive to avoid them?

  • The complete sentence is "The Proposed Research describes what you plan to do. There is a terrible tendency to put in lots of equations (even if you are an experimentalist). To the contrary, the best proposals contain no equations at all! If you feel the need of a bunch of equations, try making a figure or table that indicates the procedure."
    – user60569
    Aug 19, 2016 at 10:21
  • [I'm young and in mathematics] Of course, "research plans" are somewhat handwavy and sketchy -- in progress, so to say -- (otherwise they would be just descriptions of past research) and focus only on the big picture and key ideas; however, I think that suggesting complete lack of technical detail is ridicolous.
    – user60569
    Aug 19, 2016 at 10:26

1 Answer 1


While I am not a physicist (I'm a mathematician, but this doesn't particularly make me any more partial to equations), the point behind the quote on that website is that you want your proposals to be easy to understand, and not make the reviewer wade through a sea of technicalities. Since you're writing for experts, if equations make the proposal easier to read and understand, please use them. Everything should be made as simple as possible...

  • 2
    I agree with you, but just to be more specific about my question, as you probably know, for every reviewer's opinion there's another reviewer that will disagree. Quoting from my last proposal report: "... could hardly be described as high risk/high gain" (reviewer #1); "... is clearly high risk/high gain" (reviewer #3). So while some reviewer will complain about the technicalities, some other will complain about lack of technicalities. My question aims at finding the "sweet spot" that would (partially) satisfy both types, and how equations play a role there.
    – Miguel
    Aug 19, 2016 at 11:01
  • @Miguel Your question as stated reads "should I include equations or not", not how should I include them or how many to include. You'll never be able to satisfy all reviewers, nor do you have to. Just write as clearly as you can, try to get feedback, and incorporate it. Hopefully you'll improve over time.
    – Kimball
    Aug 19, 2016 at 11:33

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