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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.Know Your Audience   ·   Get Started Writing the Research PlanNext page in Strategy.

Highlight Significance and Innovation

Significance and innovation are the peer review criteria reviewers use to assess the importance of your application, so you want to highlight these factors effectively. It is critical to understand just how innovative your research should be.

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.)

Significance and innovation are both NIH review criteria and sections of the Research Strategy. You can read more about how those concepts affect your application under the Our Advice header below.

Learn more about their role in peer review in these resources:

Our Advice

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

This page discusses the concepts of significance and innovation and their importance to your entire application. For advice about writing those and other sections of the application, go to Write the Research Strategy in Part 3.

Blast Off With Significance

Illustration: Expanding the Frontiers of Knowledge. A burst graphic depicting the current state of knowledge and showing how your research expands that field.One of your most critical tasks in writing your application is making sure all your reviewers—not just your assigned reviewers—grasp the importance of your project.

Throughout, you'll beam a spotlight on the significance of your research to your field and note its importance to a public health problem.

That means convincing your reviewers how the niche you've selected for this project (as well as your future plans) can push forward the frontier of knowledge in your field.

To get there, you will highlight the significance of your proposed research in your Abstract and Specific Aims—the sections all reviewers will read (also the parts made public if your application is funded).

Then convince your assigned reviewers of the importance of your research in the Significance section of the Research Strategy by explicitly stating:

  • How your research will advance your field.
  • How it will fill knowledge gaps or address opportunities or roadblocks in the field, and how it relates to research underway.
  • How the work is new and unique.
  • How it meets the NIH mission to improve health through science, by leading to cures, treatments, or preventions for human disease.

As you make your case, you'll present the significance of the research in the context of the state of your field and your long-term research plans. How convincing you are will profoundly affect your score.

Fire Up Enthusiasm

If most of your perspective reviewers are fluent in your field, don't spend much effort convincing them of the significance of your proposed project.

Generally, reviewers think of most work in their field as significant, but they will be particularly energized by an application that addresses critical research opportunities and has a promising strategy to do so.

But are they familiar with your field? Reviewers make judgments based on their unique experience and expertise, so scoping your reviewers out and writing to their perspective is key.

Convince them of the significance of your research depending on the composition of your study section.

  • Scenario one—study section is narrowly focused in your field (reviewers are fluent in your field): spend much less effort convincing them of your project's significance.
  • Scenario two—study section is more diverse: write more on significance.

Even if reviewers have expertise in the broader field you're in, they may not be familiar with your narrower niche. When in doubt, highlight significance.

You should also point to the significance of your research in your Public Health Relevance Statement, Abstract, and Title (if you can).

Learn more about this topic:

Flight to Safety for Innovation

Your project should move the frontier of knowledge forward. Striving for a paradigm shift is not advisable.

It's safer to not travel far into unknown realms.

To be innovative for NIH's purposes, it's enough to show how the work you propose is new and unique and will add significantly to knowledge—move its frontier forward, as our graphic above shows.

Striving for a paradigm shift is generally not advisable. Learn more in the resources below.

If you do need to propose highly innovative research, read our advice in Getting a Grant for Innovative Research.

Checkpoint. After I write the Significance and Innovation sections, I check that:

  • My application makes a solid case for the reason my research is important, so all my reviewers understand its significance.
  • I balance the amount of information to include with my study section's expertise in my research area.
  • I focus on how my project addresses critical research opportunities that can move the frontier of knowledge in my field forward.
  • I highlight significance in other parts of the application, such as the Abstract.
  • To show innovation, I describe how my project is new and unique but not too far out of the box.

More Resources

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

Previous page in Strategy.Know Your Audience   ·   Get Started Writing the Research PlanNext 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 March 26, 2012

Last Reviewed December 01, 2011