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Writing a Great Grant Application Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

Where can I find help and advice on writing a grant application?

Go to the Strategy for NIH Funding for information.

NIAID also posts examples of exceptional funded applications at Samples and Examples. See Sample Applications and Summary Statements.

Find more resources on the All About Grants Tutorials main page.

Where can I find samples of NIH-funded applications?

Find them at Sample Applications and Summary Statements .

Who is the main audience for my application?

Your peer reviewers are your main audience, so tailor your application to them. There are actually two reviewer audiences, with different information needs. For more information, read:

Will most reviewers understand my science?

Not necessarily. For unsolicited applications reviewed by standing Center for Scientific Review study sections, only some peer reviewers will likely understand or read the details of your science. See the links in the question above.

Is it a good idea to use nontechnical writing for some of the application?

Yes. Read more in the Strategy for NIH Funding pages listed in the next question.

Do the reviewers generally assess the science in detail?

Yes. Though only two to three peer reviewers read your application in detail, they all examine the science, discuss the application, and vote on it. Read more in:

Why is it important to convey the impact of my research?

In initial peer review, the reviewers judge your application's impact: its ability to have a powerful impact on its area of science and move the field forward.

Reflecting their judgment of your application's impact, they assign it an overall impact score, which is the primary basis for our decision whether to fund your application.

For advice on convincing reviewers of your project's impact, read Pick a Research Project in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Also see How NIH Review Criteria Affect Your Score in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

As a new investigator, should I always ask for the smallest grant type?

No. Read more in the following pages:

Does an application have to be strong in all review criteria to fare well?

No. See How NIH Review Criteria Affect Your Score for details.

Does my application have to relate to the mission of NIH?

Yes. Your application includes a short Project Narrative section that states your project's potential to improve public health.

In your Abstract and Significance, you should also describe how your proposed research relates to human health. Your Abstract, which becomes a public document, should state this in plain language.

Read more in the Write the Research Strategy in the Strategy for NIH Funding and Hone Your Abstract and Narrative in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Will NIH return improperly formatted applications?

Yes. You must follow the instructions for font and font size, margins, and other formatting requirements or NIH will reject your application. For details, see Master the Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

What items can I put in the Appendix?

NIH limits what you can include in an Appendix. For more information, go to What to Add and Not to Add in an Appendix in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Will a messy application affect my score?

Yes, it can. You will not impress peer reviewers if your application is messy and difficult to read. Organization problems also make it less likely that reviewers will find information they are looking for. If they do not, they may fault you for omitting something that is actually there.

Read Master the Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding and Does It Look Good? in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Is being highly innovative usually a good approach?

Not necessarily. For more on this topic, read Getting a Grant for Innovative Research and the following pages of Strategy for NIH Funding.

Should my application be hypothesis driven?

Generally. Most NIH-funded research is hypothesis driven. State your hypothesis in your abstract and Research Plan. Read more in Choose a Testable Hypothesis in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Is it a waste of reviewers' time to discuss alternative hypotheses or approaches?

No. You should present alternatives depending on the results you get with your initial experiments and to address different reviewer perspectives. Read the Write the Research Strategy in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Do I need experience with the proposed techniques?

Yes, unless you are working with someone who does. NIH allows you to use subawards and multiple PI applications to bring consultants and collaborators onto your project.

If you are considering this path, read the following in the Strategy for NIH Funding:

Also see Consultants or Collaborators—How They Differ in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How important are preliminary data?

That depends. For an R01, preliminary data are very important for an experienced PI or one continuing a research project.

For a new PI or an investigator entering a new field, peer reviewers expect fewer preliminary data. However, they expect some data unless you are responding to a solicitation that states data are not necessary. Read more in the Write the Research Strategy in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Some grant types, e.g., the exploratory/developmental research grant (R21), do not require preliminary data. But be aware that our data for R21 applications show that preliminary data correlate with funding success. Read more at Know the Importance of Preliminary Data on Should You Apply for an R21? in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Are there limits to the amount of money I can request?

That depends on the award type. An R01 has no limit, though we advise you that "less is more," especially for a new investigator. If you're new, read our advice—go to Your Project's Scope: Plot Your Boundaries in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Some grants, such as the small grant (R03) and exploratory/developmental research grant (R21) do have funding limits.

All investigators have two caps to think about: on renewal applications and PI salaries. For an explanation of the renewal funding cap, see Plan Your Renewal's Budget in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

For the salary cap, your request should reflect your institutional base salary. If that salary exceeds the cap, your grants management specialist will adjust accordingly. Go to our Paylines and Funding portal and Salaries and Stipends questions and answers.

What direct costs are excluded from calculating facilities and administrative (indirect) costs?

Check with your institution's business office for that information.

Should I ask several people to review my application before submitting it?

Yes. Getting outside advice is always a good idea to ensure that your application is understandable to others and find omissions or discrepancies you may have overlooked.

Does NIAID offer workshops or seminars on grant writing?

No. However, NIAID staff members often present grant-writing strategies and opportunities at major scientific meetings.

We do have online resources with advice, information, and insights that can help you prepare your application. Read our Strategy for NIH Funding and other tutorials on our All About Grants site. New investigators may also want to check out our New Investigator Guide to NIH Funding.

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

Email with the title of this page or its URL and your question or comment. We answer questions by email and post them here. Thanks for helping us clarify and expand our knowledge base.

Last Updated January 27, 2016

Last Reviewed January 27, 2016