GRANTS AND GRANT WRITING : WRITING AND WRITERS SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES : UNITED STATES: GOVERNMENT: National Institutes of Health. Grants and Grant Writing. Writing Your Application






National Institutes of Health.

Grants and Grant Writing.

Writing Your Application



National Institutes of Health.

Grants and Grant Writing.

Writing Your Application



Writing Your Application

On This Page:

Get Prepared
What to Know Before You Start Writing the Research Proposal
Developing Your Research Plan
Additional Elements Required in a Grant Application
Important Writing Tips

Detailed Contents on This Page


Writing a grant application is a major undertaking. The following guidance
may assist you in developing a strong application that allows reviewers to
better evaluate the science and merit of your application.

Though the advice provided is relevant for all research grants, it is
general in nature and geared toward the NIH Research Project (R01).
The tips and guidelines included in this document are not intended to
replace your organization’s internal guidance , specific advice provided
by NIH program or grants management staff, or instructions found in the
various application guides.
This document is written for the Investigator. Therefore, all
references to “you” refer to the Program Director/Principal Investigator

Get Prepared

To ensure efficient and thorough completion of your application, consider
taking the following preliminary steps:

Review the grant application instructions for important information on
the application process and guidance on preparing specific sections of the

Carefully read the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for any
special instructions.

Solicit feedback from colleagues and/or mentors on your research idea
while it is still in the concept state.

Prepare an outline following the application framework and structure
described in the application guide.

Make sure you have adequate preliminary data.

Develop a feasible timeline with draft application deadlines. Be
realistic about the time it can take to write and revise the application.

Ask your colleagues or your Office of Sponsored Research for copies of
successfully completed NIH grant applications. Examine them closely.

Contact someone in your institution who can assist you in
understanding and completing application materials.

Make sure that your institution will allow you enough time to
accomplish the research, if funded.

Become familiar with the NIH peer review criteria; reviewers will use
them to rate your application.

Is Your Idea Original?

Check the literature to verify that the exact project you are
considering has not been done before. Search the literature and the NIH
RePORTER database to minimize overlap with similar studies.

Assess the competition. See which other projects in your field are
being funded, and consider turning competitors into collaborators to
improve the strength of your proposal.

Carve out a niche that will allow you to significantly advance
knowledge in your respective field.

Refine Your Ideas

Generate a hypothesis.

Make sure your specific research aims can be accomplished within
the proposed time and resources.

Discuss your research idea with colleagues, mentors, etc. Request
that they review a first draft of your specific aims early in the process.
This step can save lots of valuable time.

Confirm your confidence and enthusiasm for the proposed research.
Propose research that you are passionate about and totally committed to

INSIDER TIP: Secure a mentor(s) who can provide advice and guidance on
developing and writing a successful grant application. Secure a
collaborator(s) on your project who can provide any scientific expertise
you may lack.

What to Know Before You Start Writing the Research Proposal

Careful preparation saves time, resources and will help you build a solid
application. A panel of experts reviews all grant applications submitted
to the NIH in a process known as peer review. Although several factors
contribute to whether your application will be funded, great emphasis is
placed on this evaluation and how the reviewers rate the scientific merit
of your proposal. The following sections describe the criteria reviewers
employ to evaluate applications. Read them carefully for helpful hints on
the information and content you should include in the application to
garner a favorable evaluation.

In addition, tips have been provided for demonstrating to reviewers and
NIH staff the high quality of the personnel involved, available research
resources, and the applicant institution’s support of the project. Special
instructions for new investigators and foreign applicants are provided, as

NIH Peer Review Criteria

The goals of NIH-supported research are to advance our understanding
of biological systems, to improve the control of disease, and to enhance
health. In their written critiques, reviewers will comment on each of the
following criteria to evaluate the likelihood that the proposed research
will have a substantial impact on the pursuit of one or more of these
goals. The overall score is assigned based on the reviews for each of
these criteria. Reviewers are instructed to keep the five review criteria
in mind; however, the final priority score they assign is more likely to
reflect a judgment of overall merit.

NOTE: These are general review criteria for evaluating unsolicited
research project grant applications. NRSA fellowship award, career
development award, and specific funding opportunity announcements (FOAs)
may have different or additional special review criteria. Applicants
should familiarize themselves with the review criteria by which their
application will be evaluated.

Significance. Does the project address an important problem or a
critical barrier to progress in the field? If the aims of the project are
achieved, how will scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or
clinical practice be improved? How will successful completion of the aims
change the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or
preventative interventions that drive this field?

Investigator(s). Are the PD/PIs, collaborators, and other researchers
well suited to the project? If Early Stage Investigators or New
Investigators, or in the early stages of independent careers, do they have
appropriate experience and training? If established, have they
demonstrated an ongoing record of accomplishments that have advanced their
field(s)? If the project is collaborative or multi-PD/PI, do the
investigators have complementary and integrated expertise; are their
leadership approach, governance and organizational structure appropriate
for the project?

Innovation. Does the application challenge and seek to shift current
research or clinical practice paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical
concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions?
Are the concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or
interventions novel to one field of research or novel in a broad sense? Is
a refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts,
approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions proposed?

Approach. Are the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses
well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the
project? Are potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks
for success presented? If the project is in the early stages of
development, will the strategy establish feasibility and will particularly
risky aspects be managed? If the project involves clinical research, are
the plans for 1) protection of human subjects from research risks, and 2)
inclusion of minorities and members of both sexes/genders, as well as the
inclusion of children, justified in terms of the scientific goals and
research strategy proposed?

Environment. Will the scientific environment in which the work will be
done contribute to the probability of success? Are the institutional
support, equipment and other physical resources available to the
investigators adequate for the project proposed? Will the project benefit
from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations,
or collaborative arrangements?

Additional Review Criteria. As applicable for the project proposed,
reviewers will consider the following additional items in the
determination of scientific and technical merit, but will not give
separate scores for these items.

Protections for Human Subjects

Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Children

Vertebrate Animals





Additional Review Considerations. As applicable for the project proposed,
reviewers will address each of the following items, but will not give
scores for these items and should not consider them in providing an
overall impact/priority score.

Applications from Foreign Organizations

Select Agent

Resource Sharing Plans

Budget and Period Support

For more details regarding the scoring system, see the OER Peer Review
Process Web page.

NOTE: Certain funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) that are
published in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts may list additional
elements under each of the above criteria related to the specific
requirement of the RFA.

Independence , Resources and Institutional Support



Institutional Support


INSIDER TIP: Reviewers with expertise in your area will best recognize the
potential for your research to advance science. Applicants may request
particular study sections (and even a particular IC) in a cover letter
submitted with the application. The letter is stored in a separate
location and not forwarded to reviewers. Review the rosters of the
scientific review groups to get your application assigned to a study
section where some members have the appropriate expertise to review your
project. This is an opportunity to also provide names of any reviewers
that may have a conflict of interest and should not be considered as
reviewers of your application. It is important to match your area of
research with the areas reviewed by the study section.


Are You a New or Early Stage Investigator?

Foreign Involvement Institution and/or Investigator


Developing Your Research Plan

The research plan describes the proposed research, stating its
significance and how it will be conducted. Remember, your application has
two audiences: the majority of reviewers who will probably not be familiar
with your techniques or field and a smaller number who will be familiar.

All reviewers are important to you because each reviewer gets one

To succeed in peer review, you must win over the assigned reviewers .
They act as your advocates in guiding the review panel’s discussion of
your application.

Write and organize your application so the primary reviewer can
readily grasp and explain what you are proposing and advocate for your

INSIDER TIP: Appeal to the reviewers and the funding ICs by using language
that stresses the significance of your proposed work.


Be sure to carefully read all instructions in the application and
application guide to make sure the submission process is successful and
that consideration of your application is not delayed.


Additional Elements Required in a Grant Application

Appendix Materials

Bibliography and References Cited (formerly “Literature Cited”)

Russell Conwell Educational Services Center Research Guides:
How to Create a Literature Review ]

Care and Use of Vertebrate Animals in Research

Consortium/Contractual Arrangements


Consortium/Contractual Arrangements


Facilities and Other Resources

Inclusion of Women, Minorities and Children in Research

Protection of Human Subjects from Research Risk

Applicants must assure NIH that all human subjects are protected.
Reviewers will assess the potential risk to human subjects in proposed
research and evaluate what protections are in place to guard against any
research-related risk. Awards cannot be made until assurances are on file
with the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). Decision charts are
presented that are helpful in thinking through relevant human subject
protections issues


Resource Sharing Plan(s)

Select Agents

Multiple PD/PI

Use of Internet Sites

NIH instituted a policy that prohibits the use of World Wide Web
addresses (URLs) in grant applications in the place of text describing the
same material. This is because of the potential for providing a large
amount of extra material from a web site beyond what would fit in the page
limit, and thereby giving an unfair advantage to some applicants and a
large additional burden for reviewers.


Important Writing Tips

NIH encourages applicants to describe their research in terms that are
easily understood by peer reviewers, scientists, Congress, and the public.

Titles, abstracts and statements of public health relevance should:

Convey the value of the research in plain language clear, succinct,
and professional

Be comprehensible to both scientists and the public

Relay the potential impact of the research on health

For more information and writing examples, see Communicating Research
Intent and Value in NIH Applications.


The instructions require that materials be organized in a particular
format. Reviewers are accustomed to finding information in specific
sections of the application. Organize your application to effortlessly
guide reviewers through it. This creates an efficient evaluation process
and saves reviewers from hunting for required information.

Think like a reviewer. A reviewer must often read 10 to 15
applications in great detail and form an opinion about each of them. Your
application has a better chance at being successful, if it is easy to read
and follows the usual format. Make a good impression by submitting a
clear, well-written, properly organized application.

Start with an outline following the suggested organization of the

Be complete and include all pertinent information.

Be organized and logical. The thought process of the application
should be easy to follow. The parts of the application should fit

Write one sentence summarizing the topic sentence of each main section
. Do the same for each main point in the outline.

Make one point in each paragraph. This is key for readability. Keep
sentences to 20 words or less. Write simple, clear sentences.

Before you start writing the application, think about the budget and
how it is related to your research plan. Remember that everything in the
budget must be justified by the work you’ve proposed to do.

Be realistic. Don’t propose more work than can be reasonably done
during the proposed project period. Make sure that the personnel have
appropriate scientific expertise and training. Make sure that the budget
is reasonable and well-justified.

Capture the reviewers’ attention by making the case for why NIH should
fund your research. Tell reviewers why testing your hypothesis is worth
NIH’s money, why you are the person to do it, and how your institution can
give you the support you’ll need to get it done. Be persuasive.

Include enough background information to enable an intelligent reader
to understand your proposed work.

Although though not a requirement for assignment purposes, a cover
letter can help the Division of Receipt and Referral in the Center for
Scientific Review assign your application for initial peer review and to
an IC for possible funding.

Use the active, rather than passive, voice. For example, write “We
will develop an experiment, “not “An experiment will be developed .”

Use a clear and concise writing style so that a non-expert may
understand the proposed research. Make your points as directly as
possible. Use basic English, avoiding jargon or excessive language. Be
consistent with terms, references and writing style.

Spell out all acronyms on first reference.


Remember the Details! Below are tips to assist you in meeting the
requirements on font, font size, margins and spacing. Be sure to follow
the format in the instructions and label sections as requested.

Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface, a
black font color, and a font size of 11 points or larger. (A Symbol font
may be used to insert Greek letters or special characters; the font size
requirement still applies.)

Type density, including characters and spaces, must be no more than 15
characters per inch. Type may be no more than six lines per inch. Use
standard paper size (8 ” x 11) . Use at least one-half inch margins (top,
bottom, left, and right) for all pages. No information should appear in
the margins.


Use sub-headings, short paragraphs, and other techniques to make the
application as easy to navigate as possible. Be specific and informative,
and avoid redundancies.

Use diagrams, figures and tables, and include appropriate legends, to
assist the reviewers to understand complex information. These should
complement the text and be appropriately inserted. Make sure the figures
and labels are readable in the size they will appear in the application.

Use bullets and numbered lists for effective organization. Indents and
bold print add readability. Bolding highlights key concepts and allows
reviewers to scan the pages and retrieve information quickly. Do not use
headers or footers.

Identify weak links in your application so the application you submit
is solid, making a strong case for your project.

If writing is not your forte, seek help!

Proofreading and Final Edits

Allow sufficient time to put the completed application aside, and then
edit it from a fresh vantage point. Try proofreading by reading the
application aloud.

Allow time for an internal review by collaborators, colleagues,
mentors and make revisions/edits from that review. If possible, have both
experts in your field and those who are less familiar with your science
provide feedback. The application should be easy to understand by all.

It is a good idea to have an independent expert provide an objective
critique of your application. If possible, arrange for neutral third-party

If more than one investigator is contributing to the writing, it would
be helpful to have one overall editor.

Have zero tolerance for typographical errors, misspellings,
grammatical mistakes or sloppy formatting. A sloppy or disorganized
application may lead the reviewers to conclude that your research may be
conducted in the same manner.

Prior to submission, perform a final proofread of the entire grant

INSIDER TIP! How would you rate your application? Once you’ve finished
your application, conduct your own review based on the NIH’s five peer
review criteria. Good Luck!
Related Resources

Sample Applications
NIH Tips for Applicants – YouTube
Getting Started at NIH
Grant Writing Tips Sheets
Communication Research Intent and Value



The complete document may be read at the URL above.



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GRANTS AND GRANT WRITING : WRITING AND WRITERS SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES : UNITED STATES: GOVERNMENT: National Institutes of Health. Grants and Grant Writing. Writing Your Application

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