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Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding. Link to Part 1. Qualify for NIH Funding.Link to Part 2. Pick and Design a Project.Link to Part 3. Write Your Application.Link to Part 4. Submit Your Application.Link to Part 5. Assignment and Review.Link to Part 6. If Not Funded.Link to Part 7. Funding.

Previous page in Strategy.Strategy to Prepare Forms and Just-in-Time · Put the Finishing Touches on Your Application Next page in Strategy.

Complete the Forms

This page gives you detailed information and advice on each step of preparing the forms for key items such as biosketches, resources, and budget, linking to resource pages with more information and advice.

Before reading the information in this part, you may want to first read about planning the application in Part 2.

While this document is geared toward the basic research project grant, the R01, much of it is useful for other grants.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

(This section has factual information only; for advice on this topic, go to Our Advice below.)

Read the Application Guide

If you are applying for an investigator-initiated R01, use the forms in the R01 Parent Program Announcement.

Your funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and the accompanying NIH Guide announcement tell you which forms in the grant application package to use.

To fill out the forms, carefully follow the instructions in the SF 424 Application Guide. (Read more about FOAs in FOAs Explained in Choose Approach and Find FOAs in Part 2.)

If you are applying for an investigator-initiated R01, the R01 Parent Program Announcement NIH Guide announcement gives the following instructions that are in addition to the SF 424 Application Guide.

Resource Sharing Plan

Individuals are required to comply with the instructions for the Resource Sharing Plans (Data Sharing Plan, Sharing Model Organisms, and Genome Wide Association Studies, GWAS) as provided in the SF 424 Application Guide.

Appendix

Do not use the Appendix to circumvent page limits. Follow all instructions for the Appendix as described in the SF 424 Application Guide.

If you are not applying for an investigator-initiated R01, use the forms in the FOA.

Introduction to the Forms

The information below summarizes basic information about the most significant forms and attachments. You will need to complete other forms as well.

Other Project Information—below we list the main attachments; review the FOA for a full list.

  • Abstract and Project Narrative. Your Abstract is a succinct summary of your project. The Project Narrative gives a short description of your project's potential to improve public health.
    • If you are awarded a grant, your Abstract and Project Narrative will become public—as does the title.
    • Do not include confidential information in these sections.
    • Write so both a scientist and a lay person can understand them, to the extent that you can.
  • Bibliography and References Cited Attachment. Use this form to list all publications you have cited throughout the application.
  • Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment. Describe lab space, resources, the science environment, equipment, and institutional commitment—which is especially important for new investigators.

Senior/Key Person Profile—your biosketches show how your team has the expertise to execute the research.

Note: This section describes the new biosketch format, which is required for due dates on or after May 25, 2015. You can use the old format meanwhile, though NIH encourages you to use the new one after January 25, 2015. To learn more, see New Biographical Sketch Format on Top Policy ​Changes.

  • Add a personal statement for each key person.
  • Follow the instructions for how many publications or manuscripts in press to list in each section.
  • In your Appendix, you may also include three manuscripts that are not public if they have been accepted for publication. Not all FOAs allow publications in the Appendix.
  • List research support for each key person.
  • Do not attach Current and Pending Support; NIH may penalize you if you do.

PHS 398 Modular Budget Component or R&R Budget—know which form to use.

  • Prepare a modular budget in $25,000 increments if your budget is less than $250,000 and you are working at a domestic institution, unless your FOA states otherwise.
  • If you are requesting more money or are at a foreign institution, prepare a detailed budget.
  • Request grant monies only for costs that are allowed, reasonable, and necessary for your research.

For form tips and other helpful information, see NIH's Annotated SF 424 Grant Application Forms.

Note for Multiple PI Applications

If you plan to submit a multiple PI application, you must include a Multiple PI Leadership Plan. When you complete the forms, do the following.

  • Do NOT check the co-PIs box on the SF 424 (Cover Page) form. NIH does not use co-PIs.
  • Include the Commons ID for each PI in the "Credential, e.g. agency login" field on the Research and Related Senior/Key Person Profile form.
  • Put only the contact PI's name and Commons ID on the SF 424 form. He or she must be affiliated with the applicant institution.
  • If you are a new investigator, read Are You "New" in our New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding for caveats about using a multiple PI approach.

Read more about multiple PI applications:

Contact Your Business Office

Contact your business office to find out its timelines and requirements. Your business office will provide some of the information in your application and will require other information from you. The information it requests and amount of time it needs depend on the institution, and the latter can be considerable.

Staff in your business office will likely prepare some of the budget and cover page information, for example, your institution's facilities and administrative cost rate.

They will also review and sign your application before you submit it. As PI, you do not sign, but give your institution a signature assurance to keep on file before each submission.

Our Advice

(This section has advice only; you should also read the factual information above at Just the Facts.)

Make sure that any information you add to any form is in sync with the other forms and with your Research Plan.

The advice we give below is geared to the R01, NIH's standard research grant.

To get the most out of it, complete the planning steps described in Part 2. Pick and Design a Project, especially Design a Project. At this point you should have also written your Research Plan (Specific Aims and Research Strategy).

Some information—such as key personnel, resources, and consortium (subaward)—appears on more than one form of the grant application package. As you work, make sure that any information you add to any form is in sync with the other forms and with your Research Plan. (You may want to read Use an Iterative Process in Part 2.)

A note on mandatory and "optional" components. You will complete all mandatory components and any optional ones that are appropriate to your application. Some "optional" forms may be required.

  • For the budget forms, "optional" means "pick the appropriate one."
  • For the cover letter, "optional" means "use if appropriate" (e.g., resubmitted applications require a cover letter, but new ones do not, although we recommend that you include one).

Work With Your Grants Office

Early on, you should talk to staff in your institution's business office about how you will apply, what information they will provide, what help they may give you, and what information they need from you and when they need it.

Keep in mind that your business office may request information from you weeks or even months before the receipt date, particularly for the budget section. Make sure you know your deadlines well ahead of time so you will be ready to meet your receipt date.

You will work closely with your business office staff before and throughout the application process.

Hone Your Abstract and Narrative

Be sure to omit confidential or proprietary information in these sections!

After you finish your Research Plan, you are ready to write your Abstract (called Project Summary/Abstract) and Project Narrative, which are attachments to the Other Project Information form.

These sections may be small, but they're important.

  • All your peer reviewers read your Abstract and narrative.
  • Staff and automated systems in NIH's Center for Scientific Review use them to decide where to assign your application, even if you requested an institute and study section.
  • They show the importance and health relevance of your research to members of the public and Congress who are interested in what NIH is funding with taxpayer dollars.

Be sure to omit confidential or proprietary information in these sections! When your application is funded, NIH enters your title and Abstract in the public RePORTER database.

Think brief and simple: to the extent that you can, write these sections in lay language, and include appropriate keywords, e.g., immunotherapy, genetic risk factors.

As NIH referral officers use these parts to direct your application to an institute for possible funding, your description can influence the choice they make.

Abstract. Write a succinct summary of your project that both a scientist and a lay person can understand (to the extent that you can).

  • Use your Specific Aims as a template—shorten it and simplify the language.
  • In the first sentence, state the significance of your research to your field and relevance to NIAID's mission: to better understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.
  • Next state your hypothesis and the innovative potential of your research.
  • Then list and briefly describe your Specific Aims and long-term objectives.

Narrative. In your Project Narrative, you have only a few sentences to drive home your project's potential to improve public health.

Spot the Sample

Check out these effective Abstracts and Narratives from our sample applications on Sample Applications and Summary Statements:

  • Colin Parrish, Ph.D., of Cornell University: "Structural controls of functional receptor and antibody binding to viral capsids" – go to Parrish Full Application.
  • Adam Ratner, M.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University: "Gardnerella vaginalis: toxin production and pathogenesis"—go to Ratner Full Application.

How's that title? If you created a provisional title already, this is a good time to check that it's still apropos. In any case, you may want to go over the pointers we gave you at Get Started Writing the Research Plan in Part 3.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

  1. My Project Summary/Abstract and Project Narrative (and title) are accessible to a broad audience.
  2. They describe the significance of my research to my field and state my hypothesis, my aims, and the innovative potential of my research.
  3. My narrative describes my project's potential to improve public health.
  4. I do not include any confidential or proprietary information.
  5. I do not use graphs or images.
  6. My Abstract has keywords that are appropriate and distinct enough to avoid confusion with other terms.
  7. My title is specific and informative.

Show Resources, Institutional Support

As a new investigator, you need to show how your institution is invested in your success, including startup funds, lab space, and mentoring.

As you likely know by now, proposing elegant science is not enough. Reviewers will scrutinize your application to make sure you have the resources to get the job done.

If you are a new investigator, you also need to show how your institution is invested in your success, including startup funds, lab space, and mentoring.

Find the Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment attachments on the Other Project Information form of the grant application package.

Spot the Sample

Look at the Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment attachments of the same applications noted in the Spot the Sample above:

  • Check out Dr. Parrish's application to see how he describes space and resources for his lab and office, the science environment (including biohazards), and computer facilities and equipment. Go to Parrish Full Application.
  • See Dr. Ratner's application for a good example of a paragraph about institutional commitment for a new investigator. Go to Ratner Full Application.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

  1. I include a section that informs my reviewers about the support I have from my institution. I describe how my institution will let me spend enough time to complete the project.
  2. When describing resources and equipment, I use a level of detail appropriate to my institution.
    • If I am at a research institution that has major NIH funding, I list only major items of equipment that I can access, giving their location and capabilities.
    • If I am at a research institution that gets little NIH funding, I list even basic items such as centrifuges.
    • For research on animals, I omit basic items such as the number of animal cages if at an AAALAC-accredited institution (I state that I am). Otherwise, I spell it all out.
  3. It is clear how my scientific environment will contribute to the success of my project, including unique features that will help me accomplish my goals.
  4. If the research will be at more than one site, I state which facilities will house which parts of the project.
    • I describe resources for each site.
    • I list all sites on the Project/Performance Site Locations form (not the Other Project Information form).

Emphasize Expertise in Your Biosketches

Your personal statement and contributions to science can be big factors in how you the PI rate on the Investigator review criterion.

Note: This section describes the new biosketch format, which is required for due dates on or after May 25, 2015. You can use the old format meanwhile, though NIH encourages you to use the new one after January 25, 2015. To learn more, see New Biographical Sketch Format on Top Policy ​Changes.

Reviewers look carefully to see whether the PI and others have enough experience with the techniques to execute the Research Plan.

All people who play a substantive role need a biographical sketch even if they are not paid a salary from the grant, including consultants and technical staff. Stay within the salary cap—see our PI Salary Cap and Stipends for levels.

Reviewers will check that you have asked for an appropriate number of people, amount of time, and level of expertise to conduct the research.

Attach the biographical sketches to the Senior/Key Person Profile form.

See NIH's Biographical Sketch Sample (MS Word) for instructions and example text. Fellowship applicants, see the samples at Additional Format Pages instead.

Make your personal statement shine. Don't skimp on this key section of the biosketch. Your personal statement can be a big factor in how you the PI rate on the Investigator review criterion.

All key personnel's biosketches have a personal statement too, which must explicitly state how their experience qualifies them for their role on your project, including relevant education, expertise, and accomplishments.

Imminent promotion? Are you slated for an important promotion, for example, to assistant professor? Include the date it is scheduled to happen in the personal statement of your biosketch. While NIH does not require any particular title, your status may affect how reviewers view your qualifications.

After submitting, you can inform the scientific review officer that the promotion took place up to 30 days before the meeting.

Carefully choose publications. Highlight your team's expertise by listing publications or manuscripts in press for each member.

Emphasize contributions to science. This is another important section for the Investigator review criterion. Describe up to five of your most significant contributions to science, using no more than half a page for each one.

Give historic context for the contribution and specify your role in the work. Also describe the central findings and their influence on scientific progress, health, or technology. For each contribution, you can reference up to four peer-reviewed publications or other non-publication research products.

List any research support for each key person. Reviewers also look here to check qualifications, so briefly describe all supported research relevant to your project.

If someone leaves. Did you prepare your application and then find out that a key person is leaving?

Even if he or she will be gone by the time the application is funded, you can keep that person on the personnel list. Reviewers understand that people move and assume you will find a replacement with similar skills. Do not use "to be named."

If you have a replacement, submit the biosketch and letter of support or collaboration to the scientific review officer at least 30 calendar days before the review meeting.

Note for multiple PI applications. If you are submitting a multiple PI application, read Just the Facts above. If you are a new investigator, pay special attention to the new investigator caveats.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

  1. My personal statement showcases my skills.
  2. I convince reviewers that I am the right person to lead the research.
  3. The other biosketches will convince reviewers that members of my team can all perform the roles I need them to play on the project.
  4. In the research support section, I highlight each person's accomplishments.
  5. The publications I choose reveal my skills and those of my team.
  6. My biosketches are consistent with other parts of the application.

One more note on the Senior/Key Person Profile form: do not attach Current and Pending Support, a.k.a., other support, unless (very rarely) you are applying through a request for applications or program announcement that instructs you to do so.

We will ask for your other support information later if your application scores within the funding range.

Plan Your Budget

If you are a new investigator, avoid asking for expensive equipment, e.g., over $10,000.

With today's tight paylines, it's usually a better strategy to create smaller applications that request less money. Reviewers often do not discuss modular budgets but will closely scrutinize larger funding requests.

If you are a new PI working in a domestic institution, use a detailed budget only if you cannot avoid requesting over $250,000 (excluding F&A costs for a consortium) or your FOA requires a detailed budget. To get an idea of average grant costs, see these FY 2010 data for competing R01 applications.

  • Average application received roughly $290,000 in direct costs (does not include your institution's overhead, called facilities and administrative costs).
  • About 76 percent of new investigators used a modular budget. Applications requesting $250,000 or less in direct costs use a modular budget (read more at Complete the Forms in Part 3).
  • For non-new investigators, 66 percent went the modular route.

Especially if you are creating a detailed budget, you can expect your reviewers to look for reasonable costs and judge whether your request is justified by your Specific Aims and methods. Also expect them to read the percent effort you've listed for each key person and judge whether the figures are in sync with their expectations based on the research you propose.

It's fine to ask for money for small pieces of equipment or items not usually shared.

For more costly equipment, e.g., over $10,000, be cautious if you are a new investigator. See if you can share the equipment with other investigators in your institution. Then ask for just a percentage of the costs in your application. If you decide to go ahead and request the funds, make sure your request is absolutely essential, and you justify it well.

If you are an established investigator leading a larger research effort, reviewers will be more comfortable with such a request.

As you designed your experiments, you may have kept track of the resources you will need to conduct the research—if you did not, you need to go back and figure this out. Then determine which resources your organization (or that of your collaborators) will provide and which to add as budget items in your application.

If you are preparing a detailed budget for the first time, get help from someone who has done it before.

Checkpoint. After creating an initial plan, I check that:

  1. Unless it's not feasible, I plan a modular budget of $250,000 or less.
  2. I plan expenses that are consistent with the research I am proposing.
  3. I gauge salaries to be 60 to 80 percent of the request. My salary, as PI, does not exceed the mandatory cap. I check with my institution for employee salaries.
  4. Based on the support I expect from my organization, I know:
    • Whether I have a budget from my institution to purchase needed equipment.
    • Whether I have access to necessary equipment, especially large equipment, that I can share or can collaborate with someone who has that access.
  5. If I am a new investigator, I usually plan to request funds in the application only for small pieces of equipment or items not usually shared.
  6. If my budget is ballooning out of scale, I consider cutting back experiments or Specific Aims, redrawing the research until it fits within the target range I planned for my budget.

Create a Modular Budget

Because modular budgets have no increases for inflation for future years, you'll have to plan the entire budget— everything you'll need—at the outset.

Reviewers will view the correlation of your funding request with the project's scope as a gauge of your competence.

Prepare a modular budget that requests funding in $25,000 increments if your budget is less than $250,000 and you are working at a domestic institution (unless stated otherwise in a request for applications or program announcement).

Fill in the PHS 398 Modular Budget form with your budget request for each year and the total.

Because modular budgets have no increases for inflation for future years, you have to plan the entire budget—everything you'll need—at the outset.

If you are in a domestic institution, read more in Grantees Can Take Many Actions Independently in How to Manage Your Grant in Part 7.

If you are in a foreign institution, read Part 3. Actions You Can Take as a Project Leader in our Grants Policy and Management Training for Foreign Investigators.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

  1. I am requesting the same number of modules each year, except special needs such as equipment.
  2. All my costs are justified by my Specific Aims and methods.
  3. My costs are allowed, reasonable, and necessary.
  4. If I am asking for equipment costing more than $10,000, I:
    • Create a separate module for it.
    • Make it a one-time request and do not add it to my base amount.
    • Include a thorough justification in the Additional Narrative Justification attachment.
  5. All percent effort estimates are in sync with a person's role on the project.
  6. My direct costs and facilities and administrative costs (F&A, also known as indirect costs) are consistent on all budget pages.
  7. I completed the justification attachments: Personnel, Consortium, and Additional Narrative (if needed, for example, if the number of modules varies annually).
  8. My Personnel Justification lists all key personnel, including nonconsortium collaborators, their expertise and precise role, and the calendar months they will devote to the project.
  9. My Consortium Justification lists consultants and collaborators with whom I have a consortium (subaward) arrangement including their roles and calendar months they will devote to the project.

Connect to Science With Citations

By citing wisely in your Research Plan, you put your research in its scientific context for your reviewers and convince them that you know your field.

Then in your Bibliography and References Cited Attachment, list all the publications you have cited. We suggest that you limit your citations to fewer than 100, but don't omit essentials or items that highlight the breadth of your knowledge.

Checkpoint. After finishing the draft, check that:

  1. I highlight my knowledge of the field using no more than 100 citations.
  2. I follow NIH's public access policy, putting the PubMed Central ID or NIH manuscript number in the citation when citing a paper that results from NIH funding.
  3. Each citation includes the names of all authors (in the same sequence as the publication), article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication.

What to Add and Not to Add in an Appendix

NIH will check that you did not try to bypass page limits by putting materials in the Appendix that belong in the Research Plan.

NIH limits the information you may put in an Appendix. Rules differ by grant type and funding opportunity announcement, so check yours carefully.

Be aware that NIH will check that you did not try to bypass page limits by putting materials in the Appendix that belong in the Research Plan.

An Appendix may include certain publications and an unlimited number of questionnaires, data collection instruments, clinical protocols, and informed consent documents. But keep in mind that the more nonessential information you give reviewers, the more material they have to fault.

Here are the rules for publications for an Appendix to an R01 application.

Limited Items

  • Your Appendix may include up to three of the following items:
    • Manuscripts or Abstracts accepted for publication but not published.
    • Published manuscripts or Abstracts that are not on a public Web site.
    • Patent materials relevant to the project.
  • If a publication is public, always link to it, or include its NIH PubMed Central identification number in the text. Don't put a copy in the Appendix or elsewhere.
  • Never include a manuscript not accepted for publication.
  • For multiproject applications, each project or core may include up to three of the above items. See NIAID's Guidance for Preparing a Multiproject Research Application.

How to Deal with Images

  • Do not put materials such as electron micrographs or gels in the Appendix. Put them in the Research Strategy, where they count toward the page limit.
  • Follow the SF 424 Application Guide for size and resolution information.

Submitting the Appendix

Use the Appendix attachment of the PHS 398 Research Plan form in the grant application package. If you can't submit the materials electronically, contact your scientific review officer.

Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Previous page in Strategy.Strategy to Prepare Forms and Just-in-Time · Put the Finishing Touches on Your Application Next page in Strategy.

See the other sections of
Part 3. Write Your Application

Table of Contents for the Strategy

We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Email deaweb@niaid.nih.gov.

Last Updated December 17, 2014

Last Reviewed December 01, 2011