Skip to main content

Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Celebrating 75 Years! Learn More >>

Grant Writing Assistance

Principal Investigator:
The Principal Investigator (PI) is responsible for the scientific conduct of the work and usually prepares the grant application. Projects may have one or more scientists designated as Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs), but NIH does not formally recognize Co-PIs. NIH does not award grants directly to individuals; grants are awarded to institutions that are responsible for the administration, especially the financial aspects, of the grant award. Grant applications must be approved and signed by a responsible institutional official. See Multiple PI Information Update  for further information on applications with multiple PIs.

There are no guarantees for successful funding of your application, but the following material should prove helpful as you prepare your application. While this information is applicable to preparing grant applications in general, it is written specifically with preparation of an R01 application in mind. Be sure to read the Review Criteria found in Step 3 for further guidance. For help with applications that are under training mechanisms, please see Research Training, Career Development and Related Programs

Most grant applications are reviewed according to five major criteria: significance, approach, innovation, investigator, and environment. Addressing each of these elements adequately is fundamental to writing a successful application. For more information on the criteria see Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Advice to Investigators . Aspects of the grant application are:

  1. Essentials
    • Significance,
    • Sound hypotheses,
    • Productivity and demonstration of feasibility - high quality results and figures,
    • Logical development of experimental design,
    • Can you do everything you propose to do in the time requested; "overly ambitious" is one of the most common criticisms of new investigators,
    • Clear writing; an overview and tips can be found by visiting Communicating Research Intent and Value ,
    • Plan ahead and don't rush - give yourself 2-3 months to prepare the grant application.
  2. Specific aims
    • Do the aims address interesting and significant issues?
    • Are they hypothesis-based?
    • Are they "win-win" - will an outcome consistent with the null hypothesis still be a contribution to the field?
    • Arrange with colleagues or mentors to review a first draft of your specific aims early (6 weeks or so) just to make sure you are on the mark.
  3. Background
    • Clear, well organized - use subheadings where possible; make sure the significance of the topic is explicitly stated,
    • State clearly where the gaps in knowledge exist in the field that your results will address,
    • Make sure your references reflect an updated knowledge of the field.
  4. Preliminary results
    • Draw as much as possible on your past productivity; emphasize how your previous work leads up to the present proposal or at least demonstrates feasibility of methods to be used,
    • Do not show preliminary results that are not of high quality - this is your chance to represent yourself,
    • Make sure that the major methods to be used in the proposed work are reflected by preliminary results; if you do not have expertise or preliminary results with a technique, make sure you list a solid, experienced consultant or collaborator and include a letter agreeing to the collaboration, and specifically stating just what the collaborator will contribute,
    • Show detailed numbers and representative raw data where necessary, especially if this is work that is unpublished,
    • Put time and effort into preparing meticulous figures, graphs, or tables; this is your chance to demonstrate rigor and organization that will increase the reviewer's confidence that you can carry out the project.
  5. Experimental design
    • This is one of the most common places where the text is insufficient; this is not just a place to list group sizes, detailed methods, etc., this is the place to demonstrate your ability to think knowledgeably and logically,
    • Develop your aims; of all the sections this may well be the part of the grant application upon which you spend the most time,
    • What happens if your first specific aim doesn't work out as you have predicted? Will aims 2, 3, and 4 then be rendered useless? Where do you go if the first step fails? Have multiple working hypotheses.
    • One method that often works is to divide this section into subheadings after each specific aim is restated, as follows:
      • Specific Aim #
        • Rationale: How does this design relate to your hypotheses? What is your reasoning (in detail)?
        • Methods: List general approaches first, explaining why the methods you propose are the best available for your questions. (Caveat: if you realize that you do not have the best, most direct methods for your questions, you need to rethink your aims or incorporate collaborators or new preliminary data showing feasibility with the necessary techniques.) -Don't forget to address statistical analysis.
        • Anticipated results: You need to show that a great deal of thought has gone into predicting potential outcomes and their likelihood. Explain how you will interpret the different outcome scenarios and how these results relate back to your hypotheses. This is an opportunity to demonstrate creativity and enthusiasm for the data to be obtained, and show that they will be competently addressed.
        • Problems and pitfalls: All experiments have pitfalls, but extraordinarily large pitfalls are likely to be unreasonable; hence, this section should serve as a reality test. Explain the pitfalls, and how alternate approaches will be used to overcome them if they occur. Do not think that avoiding mentioning a pitfall is a good strategy-it usually doesn't work. The reviewer will very likely notice the pitfall and believe that you are not aware of it, decreasing confidence in your ability to manage the data.
  6. Timetable
    • Charting out who will do what, by whom, can provide a helpful reality check; this does not need to take up an inordinate amount of space,
    • Remember, this is a required element of the grant application, and the reviewers will use it to gauge your commitment, time resources, and planning ability.
  7. Budget
    • For modular budgets :
    • A budget of $250,000 or less in direct costs should be submitted in modules (or increments) of $25,000.
    • A typical modular budget will have the same number of modules in each year. If they are not the same, an additional narrative budget justification should be provided.
    • Consortium/contractual costs should be estimated based on total costs and rounded to the nearest $1,000 and must be included in the overall requested modular direct cost amount.

      Back to Step 2