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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.Complete the Forms   ·   Prepare Your Just-in-Time InformationNext page in Strategy.

Put the Finishing Touches on Your Application

After you finish writing, give your application a critical review. Use the advice and helpful checklists below to perfect your application.

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

Table of Contents

(This page has advice only.)

Inspect Your Application

Giving your application a final, thorough review is crucial. Don't skip this step since it is absolutely critical to submit the best application you can on the first try. Why, you ask? Two important reasons:

  1. You get only one resubmission. If that doesn't work, you'll have to start over with a new or greatly revised idea.
  2. With today's shorter summary statements, you're less likely to get much reviewer feedback that can help you improve your resubmission.

What's more, with competition being so stiff, you want to put your best foot forward with an application that looks good and reads well. For more on that, read Master the Application in Part 3.

Use Our Checklists

You get only one resubmission. If that doesn't work, you'll have to start over with a new or greatly revised idea.

Start your inspection by checking that the main parts of your application are on target and in sync with one another.

Allow time because revisions in one section may trigger other changes. For example, if your budget is out of scope, you may need to adjust your Specific Aims, which will change other parts of your application.

Also give yourself some breathing room to make changes from the people you asked to review your application (as we discuss below under Checkpoint 5). For details on timing, see the Strategy timing pages in each part and Strategy Timelines for an overview.

To help ensure you don't overlook anything critical, go over the following checkpoints.

Checkpoint 1. Keeping in mind peer reviewers' perspectives, make sure that:

  • My Research Plan is written so my reviewers can readily grasp my proposal and can explain it to the others.
  • Other reviewers will understand what I plan.
  • I request a review group that will see the topic as high impact and written for them.
  • My tables and figures have clear legends and can be understood without referring to my text.

Checkpoint 2. To ensure that all key parts are on point, check that:

  • My Research Plan is strong.
  • I emphasize the impact of my project on its field.
  • All my text supports my conclusions.
  • Could a reader use my facts to reach different conclusions? If so, I should revise so there's no room for argument, or reconsider my idea.
  • A reviewer would believe I can achieve the Specific Aims within the planned budget and timeframe.
  • My budget is within an appropriate range for my career stage, grant type, and research.
  • I explain the significance of the work to scientific research progress and public health.
  • I explain how my project is innovative.
  • I make a strong case for qualifications of the researchers and my institutional support.

Checkpoint 3. When checking for consistency, organization, and other items:

  • After I finish writing, I set the application aside for a few days.
  • I make sure the material is well-organized, and all elements are easy to find.
  • There is no confidential information in the title or Abstract, and I mark any other confidential information to remind reviewers.
  • I reference the latest publications and key findings in my field and support key facts with citations.
  • The application is visually appealing, with white space and elements such as bullets to break up and organize the text.
  • I cross-check all data and information for consistency, e.g., check information that appears on more than one application form, such as key personnel, resource, consortium, and budget.

Checkpoint 4. Once the initial draft is finished, check for readability:

  • There is a topic sentence for each main point.
  • Each paragraph has only one point, which I state clearly as a topic sentence.
  • I use short paragraphs and start with basic ideas, progressing to more complex ones.
  • I state key points as nontechnically as possible.
  • My text has short sentences with a basic structure: subject, verb, and object.
  • I break up long, involved sentences, avoid long introductory phrases, and keep sentences to 20 or so words or less.
  • At the beginning of a new concept, I show relationships using a transition, e.g., "furthermore," "in another area," "in contrast," and "following the same path."
  • I put clauses and phrases as close as possible to—preferably right after—the words they modify.
  • I use strong, active verbs. For example, "We will develop a cell line," rather than "A cell line will be developed."
  • I turn dull abstract nouns ending in "ion" and "ment" into gerunds. Use "creating the assay leads to..." rather than "the creation of the assay leads to..."

Checkpoint 5. A second look from other "inspectors" will likely reveal cracks. Ensure that:

  • I get opinions from peers, mentors, or my department head who can assess whether my application stands to make a high impact on its field and that I've driven home its impact.
  • I ask for opinions on the writing and presentation as well as the content. I tell my reviewers to:
    • Inform me of the strong and weak points of my application.
    • Be brutally honest—the more critical, the better.
  • I also have nonexperts in the field read the application to make sure it's clear and understandable.
  • I allow at least two weeks for my reviewers to read my application and for me to incorporate their suggestions.
  • My changes are consistent throughout the document.
  • I ask my reviewers to score my application using NIH's review criteria.

Checkpoint 6. After finding the content satisfactory:

  • I conduct a final edit.
  • I enlist friends and colleagues to help since they will probably find lots of errors I overlooked before.
  • I look for consistency, typos, grammatical mistakes, omitted information, and errors in figures and tables.
  • I check that my work is letter perfect.
    • Edit out redundant words and phrases; make the writing concise and informative.
    • Proofread several times on different occasions, and have others proofread as well, including nonscientists with strong English skills.

Note: If you're running out of time to do all this and cannot meet the application deadline comfortably, consider delaying to the next receipt date, unless it is the last receipt date for the fiscal year.

For more information on this topic, read Timing Factors That Affect Your Application and Award.

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

Previous page in Strategy.Complete the Forms   ·   Prepare Your Just-in-Time InformationNext 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

Last Updated November 03, 2011

Last Reviewed September 29, 2011