Broader Impacts 101 

One of the unique merit review criteria of an NSF proposal is the Broader Impacts. Writing this section of a proposal may seem daunting to first time applicants (and even experienced applicants), so we’ll first start here with defining what NSF means by Broader Impacts and follow with some tips on how to describe these activities in your proposal.  

NSF’s Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) describes Broader Impacts as the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. Your project’s broader impact activities don’t need to be a separate add-on to your research nor a long checklist.  

Your project can have broader impacts through: 

  • Your research activities, 
  • Activities directly related to your research, and/or 
  • Activities that are supported by, but complementary to, your research activities. 

To help develop the Broader Impacts section of your proposal, it is best to think about this section in much the same way you would approach the Intellectual Merit section. Consider that your research activities have rationales, specific aims, methodologies, and conclusions based on clear assessment procedures. Your Broader Impacts should have all these too! Thinking about your Broader Impacts in this way will ensure that you don’t miss critical aspects in describing how your work will benefit society. Some specific tips include the following: 

  • Consider who your target audience will be for your Broader Impacts. Do you aim to engage with students at your institution, the local community, other scientists in your field, and/or provide other specific benefits to society such as enhancing infrastructure for research and education?  
  • How will you describe the activities you plan to initiate to make this impact? Are your methods well-reasoned and feasible given your time constraints? 
  • Do your Broader Impacts require funds to carry out the proposed activities and if so, did you include those funds in your budget? 
  • Did you describe a means of assessing success of your Broader Impacts activities once they are completed?  
  • If you have conducted a similar broader impact activity in the past or will be implementing an activity for multiple years in the proposed project, have you considered how you will assess its effectiveness and make improvements? 
  • If you are continuing an activity that you have done previously, can you say something about how you are improving and building on earlier work? Or if something is working really well, it is good to highlight that. 

You can also read our blog post on how broader impacts are reviewed. And are encouraged to check out the Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS) website for information on tips for writing broader impact plans. 

Further information on Broader Impacts is available here: