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Clarity of Titles and Abstracts

NSF is committed to writing documents in understandable language and launched an initiative in late 2013 to make the description of our awards more transparent to all stakeholders – including the public – by improving the clarity of the titles and abstracts of awards. This effort is well aligned with Federal Plain Language Guidelines and the Plain Writing Act of 2010 which requires federal agencies to write "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."

In late 2015, NSF started assessing the changes that came from this initiative looking, in particular, at the impact of the guidance that NSF award abstracts should:

  • Explain the project’s significance and importance; and
  • Serve as a public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as embodied by the NSF’s mission: to serve the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense.

Here we describe the changes that have been made as a result of these efforts:


  • NSF has communicated with the awardee community through a series of Important Notices. These notices convey NSF’s commitment to the transparency of our processes and accountability of our organization. They also state the need to clearly describe the nature of awards and justify the expenditure of public funds (IN 135 and IN 136) and to convey the new steps taken to address this commitment (IN 137).
  • NSF’s Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide has been updated to reflect the new guidance described in the Important Notices.


  • Within the agency, leadership has highlighted and clarified staff guidance that NSF is responsible for appropriate award abstracts and titles, and Program Directors are responsible for ensuring that both are clearly articulated and meaningful to a broad audience.
  • The roles and responsibilities of Division Directors in the merit review process, including as a check on the clarity of titles and abstracts, has been clarified.
  • The new guidance on titles and abstracts is being provided to new Program Directors during the onboarding process and to current staff in a variety of directorate- and division-specific training materials.


  • NSF created a working group in 2014 to review and recommend policy and practices to strengthen transparency and accountability.
  • NSF appointed a staff member within the Office of the Director to ensure continued focus on this topic and ongoing improvements to NSF practices and policy, and to provide updates about these efforts to the NSF Director and the National Science Board.
  • Initial findings related to this initiative were shared with the National Science Board in Spring 2016.


For further information concerning NSF's Transparency and Accountability initiative, please send e-mail to

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