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Tips for Preparing an Application


Calendar and Clock

  1. Set aside ample time to write a strong application. It may take longer than you think. 
  2. View the Small Business Authority (SBA) on-line tutorial on preparing a responsive proposal.  
  3. Review the NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement(s) (e.g., Omnibus FOA) carefully and understand how you will be reviewed (Section V. Application Review Information).
  4. Consider your market and competition.
  5. Review sample SBIR/STTR Applications.
  6. If you are applying for your first SBIR/STTR Phase I grant, consider applying for application assistance.
  7. Schedule an appointment with your NIH SBIR/STTR Program Director for guidance and advice.
  8. Ask colleagues for their feedback, particularly those that have been previously funded by NIH.

Writing a Strong Application

The below video features reviewers and staff who offer their insights to scientists seeking to improve their chances of getting a grant from NIH. Additionally, you may wish to review guidelines from the NIH Office of Extramural Research on what peer reviewers look for

A strong application will: (i) address a significant issue/problem, (ii) present an innovative new technology to solve the problem - compared to the gold standard (if there is one), (iii) generate confidence that the investigator(s) will make a significant impact and, (iv) hold promise for commercialization. 

  • Take ample time to clearly lay out your Specific Aims. They should summarize the above and outline the key objectives for product development. 
  • Put together milestones for your project. Milestones are metric driven, quantifiable and verifiable, minimum-success criteria for each year of the project. If these minimum criteria are not met by the end of the year, completion of the overall project goals by the end of the project term will be in doubt. View examples
  • Related to milestone(s), consider including a contingency plan to help ensure success.  
  • Discuss your draft aims with colleagues who aren’t in your field. If they can understand your project and get excited about it, you have a better chance your reviewers will as well.
  • It is particularly useful to have your application reviewed by a colleague who has been successful in getting NIH funding, or better yet, has served on an NIH study section.
  • Reference the literature and/or your preliminary data to convince the reviewers that your product is likely to be highly innovative and is worth taking the risk.  
  • Make sure the project is not growing too big for your targeted time and budget. 
  • Describe your novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instruments or intervention(s) to be developed or used, and any advantage over existing methodologies, instrumentation or intervention(s) (i.e., the gold standard if there is one).
  • Never forget that reviewers also look at the feasibility of the proposed research. Novelty alone will not help you if the proposed studies are not feasible given the available time, funds, and resources to do the work.
  • See whether you have access to all needed resources and expertise.
  • Include an understanding of the regulatory pathway.
  • Consider who will be the end-user and purchaser.
  • Do not lose the reviewer the minutiae of your technology, but also do not leave key details out. The reviewer will need those details to sufficiently evaluate your technology and capabilities; all materials are reviewed confidentially and conflicts of interested are identified by the NIH Scientific Review Officer prior to review.  
  • For Phase II and fast-track Phase I/II applications, take time to craft a strong commercialization plan. 
  • Obtain letters of support from colleagues, collaborators, potential partners, especially potential end-users and customers. 

Avoid these Common Problems that Result in Non-competitive Applications:

  • Lack of focus in aims. 
  • Uncertainty whether research will produce significant innovation. Novelty alone will not produce success. 
  • Lack of an understanding of a longer-term plan for development, competition, regulation, future potential for commercialization. 
  • Overly ambitious research plan; volume of proposed work unrealistic.
  • Too little detail in the research plan (leads to reviewers questioning investigators' ability to carry out the research).
  • Study team lacks expertise in all needed areas. Search for potential NIH-funded collaborators (and/or competitors) via NIH’s Online Portfolio Reporting Tool (NIH RePORTER).
  • Proposed time and effort of study team members insufficient.

Learn More About or Contribute to the Grant Review Process:

Consider an Institute and/or Study Section Assignment Request (optional)

The PHS Assignment Request Form may be used to communicate specific application assignment and review requests to the Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) and to Scientific Review Officers (SROs). This information will not be part of your assembled application, and it will neither be made available to program staff nor provided to reviewers. It is used specifically to convey additional, optional information about your preference(s) for assignment and review of your application to DRR and SROs. This form is optional. Use it only if you wish to communicate specific awarding component assignments or review preferences. There is no requirement that all fields or all sections be completed. You have the flexibility to make a single entry or to provide extensive information using this form.

NIH will consider all assignment requests. However, it is not always possible to assign an application to a preferred study section. The Assisted Referral Tool can be used for this purpose.