Flatten Your PDF Files for the eRA Commons

Funding News Edition: June 16, 2021
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Applicants and grantees, learn how to flatten your Portable Document Format (PDF) file attachments before you upload them to the eRA Commons. Before we get into what NIH requires, here is a quick explanation of what “flat” means for PDFs:

  • By default, PDF programs place each element (e.g., form field, electronic signature, text box, or image) on a separate layer of the document.
  • You can merge all the layers together into a single flat layer. (Find instructions at the end of the article.)
  • Flattening lowers the PDF file’s technical complexity and size, making it easier for the eRA Commons and NIH staff to handle.

As a May 19, 2021 eRA Reminder summarized, NIH requires flat PDF file attachments for the following just-in-time (JIT) submission and Research Performance Progress Reports (RPPR) sections:

  • JIT Other Support File section
  • RPPR Participants section D.2.b New Senior/Key Personnel
  • RPPR Participants section D.2.c Changes in Other Support

If you upload a PDF that isn’t flat for the sections above, it may trigger an eRA Commons error message. Replace your PDF with a flat version to clear the error and proceed. 

Speaking of the JIT and RPPR sections, don’t miss our related article in this issue, “New Formats and Instructions for Other Support and Biosketches.”

Your method to flatten files depends on which PDF program you use. Most allow you to print to PDF. For Adobe Acrobat, follow eRA’s illustrated instructions at What does flattening a PDF mean and how do you do it? For other brands of PDF software, check your program’s documentation.

Contact Us

Email us at deaweb@niaid.nih.gov for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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