Letters of Support Have a Narrow, Evidentiary Purpose

Funding News Edition: October 05, 2022
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When applying for NIH funding, don’t confuse a letter of support with a reference letter, as the two Types of Letters for Grant Applications fulfill distinct functions. Follow our advice on letters of support to ensure they help rather than harm your application during peer review.

Collect letters of support from your collaborators, key personnel, institution, and other significant contributors. The letters’ text should demonstrate their commitment and summarize the agreements you have in place to support your proposed research project. Familiarize yourself with the recommendations given in the SF 424 instructions at Letters of Support.

When you request a letter of support, consider providing your collaborator a summary of your agreement as a convenient starting point. You could even draft the full letter so the other person needs only to sign and return it. That way, you’ll know the letter will contain all the information you need—and you might get it back faster.

The letters of support should clearly describe what type of support your collaborators will provide (e.g., reagents, animals, human samples, technology). Make sure to indicate whether the support is available to anyone on request or if your collaborator will provide it to you only. Our staff consider the latter point as they determine who may review your application without conflict.

In multi-component applications, you may include letters of support in the overall component, other components, or both unless stated otherwise in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA). You may also be instructed to begin the Letters of Support attachment with a table of letter authors, their institutions, and the type of each letter (e.g., institutional commitment).

Include the letters as described in the FOA’s instructions, but don’t assume that even more letters would be better. We strongly advise against collecting letters of support solely as endorsements of your reputation, expertise, or research plans. In some cases, applicants have sent over a thousand letters of support. Large numbers of letters pose a significant burden on peer reviewers as they try to determine which are truly relevant to the project.

Unnecessary letters can also limit the pool of expert peer reviewers. Due to potential conflicts of interest, anyone who writes a letter may not review your application. You could unintentionally eliminate the scientists who would have been your best supporters if you misuse letters of support as recommendations.

Done properly, relevant letters of support from your planned research collaborators will assure peer reviewers that your collaborations and institutional commitments are on the right track.

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