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Preparing Your Electronic Application

Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

What are the basic steps in preparing an electronic application?

Always apply in response to a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) by downloading and filling out the application package associated with it. Follow these steps:

  • Find a FOA in Grants.gov or on the NIAID Funding Opportunities List. For help, see What's the best way to find NIH funding opportunities?
  • Download the announcement-specific application package from Grants.gov by selecting the "Apply for Grant Electronically" button in the funding opportunity announcement. Or, if your organization uses its own system for applications, learn more at Get Ready Now to Apply Electronically in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
  • Well beforehand, see your business office about its timeline and what steps it expects you to take.
  • Read the NIH Guide announcement associated with the FOA for opportunity-specific instructions, and the Application Guide for general instructions. Find a sample SF 424 Application Guide.
  • Begin preparing your application:
    • Fill out the forms, and create PDF attachments for the cover letter, biosketches, and bibliography—find out how using the PDF Conversion Programs list on Grants.gov.
    • Once you've downloaded a grant's application package, you can complete it on your computer—no need to be logged in at Grants.gov.
    • For general guidance on writing an application go to Writing a Great Grant Application questions and answers and read our All About Grants Tutorials.
  • Undergo any internal reviews required by your organization.
  • Have your authorized organizational representative (AOR) submit your completed application to Grants.gov in time to get a Grants.gov timestamp by 5:00 p.m. your institution's local time on the due date.
  • Correct any errors from the Grants.gov validation and ask your AOR to submit it to Grants.gov again.
  • Once your application passes Grants.gov validation, it moves automatically to the Commons.
  • Correct any errors from the Commons validation and ask your AOR to submit it to Grants.gov again.
  • Once your application passes Commons validation, you and your Commons signing official review the image.
  • Your Commons signing official may reject the application image before midnight EST two business days after your application passes validations. After that point, it moves forward to NIH's Center for Scientific Review.

When do I use an NIH parent versus an NIAID announcement?

See When do I use an NIH parent versus an NIAID announcement? in the Funding Opportunity Announcements questions and answers.

Why should I read the statement of interest for a parent PA?

See Why should I read the statement of interest for a parent PA? in the Funding Opportunity Announcements questions and answers.

How do I download an application package?

Here's the process in Grants.gov:

  • After selecting a funding opportunity announcement, click the "How to Apply" button at the top right of the page.
  • Click the "Download" link in the "Instructions and Application" column.
  • Click "Download Application Instructions" for the instructions or "Download Application Package" for the forms.

For more information, see eRA's Prepare to Apply.

Some forms are mandatory and some optional—how do I know which to use?

When you access a funding opportunity announcement in Grants.gov, you'll see a screen with boxes containing mandatory and optional forms, called components.

You must complete all mandatory components, and you may have to complete some of the optional ones. "Optional" does not always mean you can opt out. Read the NIH Guide announcement to see which forms are required.

Grants.gov will not check that you have the correct optional budget form—be sure to pick the right one. Get more information in Strategy to Prepare the Forms and Just-In-Time in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Will changes in application length and structure affect my submission?

Yes. Changes to page limits and structuring affect all applications. Refer to the Detail of Applications Changes document, the Table of Page Limits, and the funding opportunity announcement for major changes that you should keep in mind.

Read Strategy to Write the Research Plan and Strategy to Prepare the Forms and Just-In-Time in the Strategy for NIH Funding for detailed guidance.

Why are some forms called SF 424 and others PHS 398?

When you view a funding opportunity announcement, you'll see Grants.gov SF 424 forms, which are used by many federal agencies, and others that add information NIH needs.

When it adapted to Grants.gov, NIH retained the name PHS 398 for these electronic forms, which include the Modular Budget, Research Plan, and Cover Letter File.

Find related information in General Application Information and Why doesn't the grant application package always match NIH's requirements? below.

Where can I get help filling out forms?

You can get different forms of help:

Why doesn't the SF 424 always match NIH's requirements?

The SF 424 and the associated Research and Related forms are government-wide. Many agencies use them, so they don't necessarily correspond to NIH's needs.

For example, the Research and Related Senior/Key Person Profile lets you attach a "Current and Pending Support" file, but NIH does not want you to submit that attachment.

There are only a few cases of mismatch—see Avoiding Common Errors for further information.

The CFDA number in the FOA looks wrong, what should I do?

If you see an inaccurate Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance number in the funding opportunity announcement, just ignore it. NIH will change it later.

Are there restrictions on file name formats?

Yes. You can use letters of either case, numbers, hyphens, and underscores. We don't recommend using other characters or spaces in file names; most are not allowed.

Do PDFs have special formatting requirements?

Yes. Here they are:

  • Do not use editable fields.
  • When using Adobe Acrobat, turn signature off when creating originals.
  • Do not submit protected documents; do not select any security settings.

Can I submit my budget as a PDF attachment?

No. You must use one of the "optional" budget form components. See Plan Your Budget in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How should I create my Research Plan?

Upload your Research Plan as a single PDF attachment. Read the Get Started Writing the Research Plan and Write the Research Strategy in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How will I sign my application?

See How will I sign my application? in General Application Information.

What publications or manuscripts are appropriate to send in my appendix?

Find that information on What to Add and Not to Add in an Appendix in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

What are the most common errors people make when filling out the forms?

Go to NIH's Avoiding Common Errors.

What are the final steps before submission?

Here are the last steps you need to complete before your Grants.gov authorized organizational representative (AOR) can submit your grant application package for you.

  • Make sure all required forms are complete and in the submission box.
  • Test your application package by clicking the "Check for Errors" button, and fix any errors.
  • At that point, the submit button becomes active (though you can't submit yourself). Save a backup copy of the application to your local drive.
  • Be sure you file a signature assurance with your organization each time you apply.
  • Contact your AOR, who submits the application on your behalf. See How do I submit my application to Grants.gov?

Where can I find more questions and answers about grant applications?

See Submitting and Validating Your Electronic Application for the next set of questions and answers on electronic grant applications. Also go to Applying for a Grant, Writing a Great Grant Application, and other Application questions and answers.

What if my question wasn't answered here, or I'd like to suggest a question?

Email deaweb@niaid.nih.gov with this link and your question or suggestion. We answer questions by email and post them here. Thanks for helping us clarify and expand our knowledge base.

Last Updated September 23, 2013

Last Reviewed May 16, 2011