See the Glossary for more terms.
Strategy for NIH Funding
Strategy for Getting Ready to Submit · Prepare to Submit
Pages of Part 4. Submit Your Application
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.
(This section has factual information only; for advice on this topic, go to Our Advice below.)
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.
You can choose to use a cover letter for the following purposes.
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:
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.
Here's how to create and format your Cover Letter.
Follow the format NIH gives you in the SF 424 Application Guide, and read it for other requirements.
(This section has advice only; you should also read the factual information above at Just the Facts.)
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.
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!
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
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Part 4. Submit Your Application
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Last Updated October 25, 2012
Last Reviewed December 01, 2011