Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Trying to write less

Any of you who have been reading a while, or who peruse the archives, will know that I have a penchant for being a bit wordy, at least when I write. So, as I continue to work on writing proposals to use telescopes, I am finding myself in a bit of a tight spot.

For any proposal, space is limited, or else we'd all ramble on and on and on for pages and pages. Yet the Time Allocation Committee (TAC) has to read each proposal, often with just a couple week's worth of notice. So the last thing the TAC wants are to have 30+ proposals, each 10 or 20 pages long. For this reason, we are limited to two pages of text (one to describe the science, one to describe how we will be using the telescopes), plus a few extra pages with necessary technical data (figures, lists of stars and galaxies, and so on), though these extra pages are not really useful from the standpoint of explaining your project.

Most of the time, I can come pretty close to explaining my science in the allotted space. But sometimes, as is the case with one of my proposals this time, it is really hard. And so I keep scratching my head -- it's not just a matter of what words can I take out, but also what entire topics I have to omit.

We can't get away with commonly-used tricks -- changing font size, margins, etc. Doing so just ticks off the TAC -- it's pretty obvious what you've done, and you are giving them more work.

So, for the next few days, I'll be stretching my brain more. What do I need to say that is crucial for the TAC to understand my proposal? What can I leave out and assume the TAC will know? And what can I get away without discussing?

It is amazing how long it can take to produce just two pages of text!

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