Applying for a grant

General Grant Planning Steps

This page gives you an overview of the steps to prepare a grant proposal. Remember that the proposal announcement always takes precedence over general announcements of grant availability.

NIH and other agencies frequently update their information. SPaR will make every attempt to keep the information appropriately updated. Rely on yourself to make sure that you know exactly what is allowed.

Always plan ahead!!! We cannot stress enough how important this is.

Be organized!!! Being organized from the start will save you time in the long run. Every file should be appropriately identified with the author’s name (if there is more than one person actually writing or editing), date, time, draft version. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of needed grant sections, page limits, letters of support, etc.

  1. Decide on the mechanism (R, K, F). If you are unsure of the different mechanisms, there is an explanation here:
  2. If this is not in response to a funding announcement, pick an agency to which you want to apply. Read about the agency on their website so that you understand their mission and objectives. Make sure that your idea fits within their mission and what they are currently funding.
  3. Discuss your idea(s) with colleagues both inside your research group as well as with colleagues who do other types of research.
  4. Plan your schedule, accounting for other commitments. Plan to work on your proposal a minimum of 1-2 hours, every day. This should include weekends!
  5. Write a preliminary abstract, study question, specific aims and broad methods and sample. Edit this until it is refined enough to share.
  6. Prepare your “pitch sheet” – think of this as a 2-minute opportunity to convey how important your idea is.
  7. Create a “running title” to use. Grants often have long (although length-limited) titles. Pick something easy. For example, the NIH-DC Initiative to Reduce Infant Mortality in Minority Populations’ Healthy Outcomes of Pregnancy Education became DC-HOPE.
  8. Create a filing system. Being organized early on will save you time later.
  9. Contact the SPaR Office to let us know exactly when and what you are planning to submit.
  10. Prepare an email to the scientific administrator listed on the funding announcement. Use the pitch sheet as the basis for the email. Attach the documents prepared in step #5 to the email. If you are applying for a K award, you may call the appropriate person to speak informally prior to sending the email.
  11. Prepare a draft of the project narrative.
  12. Review your specific aims. Edit them as needed.
  13. Draft your methods.
  14. Draft your budgets.
  15. Start writing the sections of the text.
  16. If you don’t already have one, create your biosketch. NIH has a tool to help you create your biosketch ( and they announce and provide links to the latest biosketch format (
  17. In between writing, use your time for other grant activities, such as the preparation of items like a training plan. If you need letters of support, contact the person and offer to prepare a draft letter. If they accept, email the draft and keep track of where you are in the process.
  18. Make sure you have a final title. NIH is moving from an 81 character limit to a 200 characters limit.
  19. Continue to refine your specific aims and methods section.
  20. Continue to meet with co-investigators. Make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to get feedback from them. Be considerate. You will get the most useful feedback if you allow them enough time to read your proposal and give you thoughtful responses.
  21. If you have a statistician, meet with them.
  22. Start completing the other front end sections: resources, project summary, etc.
  23. Start completing the back end sections (human subjects, data sharing, inclusion of women, children and minorities forms)
  24. Co-investigators should be adding their parts and checking the document.
  25. Finalize the budget and budget justification, with assistance from the relevant SPaR Research Programs Manager.
  26. Go to the Center for Scientific Review to see the potential members of who might be on the study section reviewing your proposal (; if any of the reviewers have relevant citations, make sure you cite them.
  27. Prepare the final draft and submit to mentors/colleagues and co-investigators.
  28. Be mindful of NIH’s formatting guidelines and page length restrictions. Please ensure that you have complied with NIH’s rules regarding font, font size, page length, etc. (We generally recommend a 1” margin and Arial 11 point font.)

It is extremely important to ALLOW EXTRA TIME! Be sure to give the various components of your grant application to SPaR with sufficient time for us to process the submission to NIH, and remember that applications should be submitted at least 48 hours prior to the deadline to enable us to address any errors that occur during the online submission process. Anticipate that we may be submitting more than one proposal for the same deadline and that we may encounter problems with the submission process. Our assistance is strictly provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Please see the SPaR Grant Submission Timetable.