How to write your NSF Project Outcome for the public

As you reach the end of your NSF funding, you will find there is a new reporting requirement that began in January 2010. This one is easy to satisfy quickly, but be careful, for it is deceptively important. Furthermore, no one will look it over before it goes up for the world to see. It was part of the America COMPETES act and is described here. There are FAQ on it also.

Why do I think this is so important? It is because this is where someone, say a staffer in a congressional office hostile to some kinds of scientific research, can go to see where NSF is spending its tax dollars. This document is not the plan, not the hopes, but the actual outcomes, so this potential reader can get direct information on what the researcher says she did. It pulls up along with the original funding abstracts, so see to it they coordinate as much as possible.This is not the Project Summary that you wrote when you submitted your proposal. You can best find this abstract by simply searching for your grant number and your name. This will pull up what the public can see. In my case, for proposal 1256416, which has ended, I could see a very general abstract and a list of publications. The publications were gathered by NSF from the Annual Reports. This abstract tells what you will do. Let the outcomes tell what you did from that list and what additional things you also did. We all know it is hard to do exactly what we say we will do at the beginning of a multiyear project if we are to do the best possible science.

Work hard to be clear, accurate, and compelling. If your work has a practical angle, mention it, but don’t over do it. Include something about the importance of basic research, perhaps by indicating an unforeseen practical outcome of research close to yours. But ultimately, most of the report will be about your research. Make it shine. The public can see what you write, along with the funding amount and technical and non-technical abstract at this site on

The document is to be 200 to 800 words and can have up to six figures. This report should not contain any unpublished data. It should not make any individuals personally identifiable. Publications will be added automatically from your Final Report. Keep your attention on the big questions, on why you did the work, and on how knowledge advances because of your work. It is all right to give some technical details, but remember that this is for the public. Maybe it would help to think of it as a poster for your non-science friends. You could even try it out on someone from a different background to be sure you are communicating effectively.

Don’t forget to say something about the broader impacts of your work. If you had undergraduates from states other than your own, mention the states, but keep individuals anonymous. If you did something in a museum, for Wikipedia, with school children, or for the public, describe it.

Remember, the more effectively we communicate with the public why what we do is important, the more willing they (and we) will be to fund research with tax dollars.

Here is the main text of the email I received from my NSF program officer letting me know about this report:

The award referenced above is subject to new NSF reporting rules which require the submission of a Project Outcomes Report for the General Public. This is a new final report that is submitted in addition to your final project report. The Project Outcomes Report serves as a brief summary, prepared specifically for the public, of the nature and outcomes of your NSF-funded project. The report must be submitted within 90 days after the expiration date of your project.

You are required to prepare and submit your report using Go to and log in as an NSF User with your NSF ID to get started. Delays in the submission of the Project Outcomes Report may result in funding and other delays in the administration of this and other awards. Be advised that failure to submit Project Outcomes Reports will impede your ability to receive new funding.

This report will be posted on exactly as it is submitted and will be accompanied by the following disclaimer:

“This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.”

Answers to general questions about this requirement may be found in the FAQs on Project Outcomes Report for the General Public at

Questions of an award-specific nature should be directed to the cognizant NSF Program Officer identified in this e-mail. For technical support, please contact the NSF Help Desk at or 1-800-381-1532.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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4 Responses to How to write your NSF Project Outcome for the public

  1. Liz Haswell says:

    I was pretty unsure about how to address this myself! I ended up writing a small paragraph, which I’ve also put up on the lab website.

  2. Pingback: Open Thread: Snowquester Edition | DEBrief

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