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Strategy for NIH Funding
Strategy to Prepare Forms and Just-in-Time · Put the Finishing Touches on Your Application
Pages of Part 3. Write Your Application
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.
(This section has factual information only; for advice on this topic, go to Our Advice below.)
If you are applying for an investigator-initiated R01, use the R01 Parent Program Announcement.
Your funding opportunity announcement (FOA) has buttons so you can apply using ASSIST forms or the Grants.gov application package. Check with your business office to determine if you're using one of those approaches or a system-to-system option.
As you 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.
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.
Senior/Key Person Profile—your biosketches show how your team has the expertise to execute the research.
PHS 398 Modular Budget Component or R&R Budget—know which form to use.
For form tips and other helpful information, see NIH's Annotated SF 424 Grant Application Forms.
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.
Read more about multiple PI applications:
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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).
Narrative. In your Project Narrative, you have only a few sentences to drive home your project's potential to improve public health.
Check out these effective Abstracts and Narratives from our sample applications on Sample Applications and Summary Statements:
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:
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.
Look at the Facilities and Other Resources and the Equipment attachments of the same applications noted in the Spot the Sample above:
Your personal statement and contributions to science can be big factors in how you the PI rate on the Investigator review criterion.
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.
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.
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 R01 grant costs, see Build a Budget.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Use the Appendix attachment of the PHS 398 Research Plan form. If you can't submit the materials electronically, contact the scientific review officer listed in your chosen FOA.
Strategy for NIH Funding
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Last Updated June 01, 2015
Last Reviewed December 01, 2011