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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 for Getting Ready to Submit   ·   Prepare to SubmitNext page in Strategy.

Create a Cover Letter

For some applications, a cover letter is optional but we recommend that you include one. Your cover letter gives the NIH Center for Scientific Review key information such as your request of an institute and study section, the expertise needed to review your application, and a list of your competitors to exclude.

Learn how to create a cover letter, and get our advice on these important topics.

Table of Contents

Just the Facts

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

When to Use a Cover Letter

Does your application need a cover letter? In some cases, it does, in others, it is optional but recommended.

Note that only the scientific review officer sees your cover letter, not the reviewers.

NIH policy allows you to list people who should not review your application, though your scientific review officer makes the call.

You must have a cover letter for the following applications.

  • Resubmissions.
  • Approvals to submit. For applications requiring our approval to submit, state that you have attached a copy of the NIAID acceptance letter to the PHS 398 Cover Letter attachment for:
    • Grants requesting $500,000 or more in direct costs for any year.
    • Conference Grants (R13 or U13).
    • Investigator-initiated clinical trial planning and implementation awards.
  • GWAS. Genome-wide association studies or those that plan to access GWAS data in the NIH repository.
  • Corrected applications. Include a complete cover letter if you did not pass validations and submitted a corrected application.
  • Late applications.
  • Continuous submission. Indicate that you are a member of an NIH study section qualified to submit at a nonstandard time.
  • Video. Indicate that you plan to send video files later. Read more at Plan Ahead for Video in Part 3.

You can choose to use a cover letter for the following purposes.

  • Exclude reviewers. NIH policy allows you to list people who should not review your application, though your scientific review officer makes the call. Valid reasons include the following:
    • Competitor.
    • Long-standing scientific disagreement.
    • Conflict of interest.
  • List expertise needed to understand and review your application—even if you request a study section, this is a good idea.
    • Highlight disciplines involved, particularly if multidisciplinary, to help the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) assign your application and to ensure the appropriate expertise on the panel.
    • Spell out the competencies of an ideal reviewer of your application.
    • After you receive your assignment in the Commons, review the study section roster to see who is on your panel.
  • Point out RFAs and PAs. State the title if you're responding to an initiative.
  • Note special areas. Note the involvement of human subjects, select agents, genome-wide association studies or study data, or other areas with special requirements.
  • Note a subaward that will be active for only some of the grant's years.
  • Request assignment from CSR to a study section and institute. Read more in the next section and Ensure You Get the Right Assignments in Part 5.

Requesting an Institute and Study Section

Frame your request in positive terms.

If you do not request an institute and study section, CSR will make these assignments for you.

CSR bases assignments on its referral criteria, relying on referral staff and knowledge-based technologies to make the match.

If you do request assignments, frame your request in positive terms and use the following format:

  • List each request as a separate bullet.
  • List positive and negative requests as separate bullets.
  • Include the name of the institute and scientific review group followed by a dash and the acronym.
  • Explain each request in one to two sentences.
  • When you request a study section, explain the reason it would be a good match.

Keep in mind that while CSR staff usually honor your request, they are not required to, and they may make a different assignment based on NIH referral guidelines and workload factors.

We delve into more detail about identifying a study section in the Our Advice section below and on these pages:

If you receive a study section assignment you are not happy with, learn what to do in Ensure You Get the Right Assignments in Part 5.

Creating Your Cover Letter

Here's how to create and format your Cover Letter.

  • Start with the title and a brief description of your application.
  • Use the PHS 398 Cover Letter File in the grant application package—don't confuse it with the mandatory PHS 398 Cover Page Supplement form.
  • Follow the SF 424 Application Guide for formatting instructions.

Follow the format NIH gives you in the SF 424 Application Guide, and read it for other requirements.

More Resources

Our Advice

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

We Recommend Including a Cover Letter

We strongly suggest that you add a cover letter to your application even if you do not need one.

At a minimum, use a cover letter to specify the expertise needed to review your application and to request an institute and study section.

It's a Good Idea to Request an Institute and Study Section

In the absence of a request from you, CSR will make these assignments. CSR processes more than 80,000 grant applications each year—you, on the other hand, can afford to take more time to make the best choice.

Institute. Having your application assigned to an institute that is enthusiastic about your research may improve your chances of funding.

Study section. Be sure to read Requesting an Institute and Study Section in Just the Facts above.

We advise you to request a study section after carefully researching groups that are likely to be appropriate for your application. If you're unsure how to proceed, go to these resources:

It's important to frame your request in positive terms. For example, say that a study section has several people who are interested in your area and qualified to judge your work or point out how the science is a good fit.

Write only a couple of sentences—CSR does not want more—to describe the areas of expertise needed to review your application and to justify your choice.

Choose carefully since you will have to live with the study section you pick!

Paylines Do Not Matter at This Point

Institute paylines are not useful for choosing where to request assignment.

Institute paylines are not useful for choosing where to request assignment.

By the time your application is up for funding, the payline may change unless you apply in Cycle 1, so it is not a good gauge of funding probability.

Plus, paylines can be deceiving. For example, NIAID sets conservative paylines each fiscal year. Toward the end of the fiscal year, we usually pay grants beyond the payline.

Paylines are useful when you are about to get funded—months after you apply. Then you should check to see if your application scored within the payline and talk to your program officer about your strategy for moving forward, after you receive your summary statement.

For more information on paylines, see these Strategy pages:

You may also want to use these reference pages:

Find our current payline information on our Paylines and Funding page. Many other institutes also publish their paylines on their Web sites. To find an institute, go to NIH's Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

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

Previous page in Strategy.Strategy for Getting Ready to Submit   ·   Prepare to SubmitNext page in Strategy.

See the other sections of
Part 4. Submit Your Application

Table of Contents for the Strategy

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

Last Updated October 25, 2012

Last Reviewed December 01, 2011