NIH Writing Grant Format & Submission Process

Where to find grant formatting requirements 

Grant applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), must be prepared in a specific NIH grant format. This is described in the 293-page SF424 instruction manual, which can be downloaded in .pdf or.docx format, from grants.nih.gov. Having the full manual is helpful for understanding all that is required for an NIH grant application. 

In particular, if your work involves human subjects, you must stringently follow the 424 instructions. To decide if your grant application must have approval of human subjects, or if the research might qualify for an exemption a decision tree is offered at grants.nih.gov/ct-decision. The NIH grant format is primarily described on page G-7, but in much more detail on the grants.gov website.

Page formatting for writing an NIH Grant

Although the page limits may differ, depending on the type of grant, all NIH grants
require minimum 0.5-inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right), and 11-point Arial,
Georgia, or Helvetica font.

References may be in any format, but no headers or footers are allowed. Rather than headers, however, titles for each section (innovation, specific aims, project summary, significance, etc.) are highly recommended.

Submission requirements  

In addition to the above guidelines for NIH grant format, an NIH Commons (era.nih.gov) account is required for submitting your application, using the recently offered ASSIST system. Although the sections may differ, depending on the type of application, all files must be uploaded as .pdfs. Specific sections always include “Sites”, “Research Plan”, “R&R Budget” (including budget justification), Sr/Key Person Profile, and very importantly, “Human Subjects/Clinical Trials”.

To upload all the various sections of your grant application, you should allow at least 4 - 5 hours. However, a better idea is to upload files during the process of writing the application in NIH grant format. The ASSIST system further allows you to perform a test run for any “errors” (“warnings” will not preclude submission), to avoid having your application rejected after the grant deadline.

Overall, while writing a grant according to the NIH grant format is fairly involved, it is pretty straightforward.

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