Procedures and Tips for Submitting NIH Electronic Proposals
Office of Sponsored Programs Development
1. PI finds appropriate funding opportunity
2. PI obtains NIH Commons account. If you do not have an account, call the Office of Sponsored Programs Development, 852-6512.
3. PI must complete the Personal Profile section of the Commons account.
4. PI goes to free http://grants.gov/help/download_software.jsp to download the free Adobe reader. Only versions 8.1.1 and higher should be used to open and complete the package of forms. Other versions may corrupt the file producing errors that may not show up until after the application arrives at NIH.
5. PI goes to https://apply07.grants.gov/apply/forms_apps_idx.html and inserts the funding opportunity number into the appropriate box. For example, PA-10-067 is the parent grant for investigator-initiated R01s.
6. PI should first download the SF424 Application Instructions. The instructions provide precise information about what is needed to complete the package of electronic forms. If you’re submitting to a Department of Health and Human Services agency, such as NIH, CDC, or AHRQ, follow the instructions shown by the DHHS bird logo. As an example, see page I39 of the instructions.
7. PI downloads the application package and uses Adobe reader to open the package. PI should immediately name the file and save it on his/her computer.
8. PI begins by completing the SF424 face page. Much of the information needed for that form is available from this website http://louisville.edu/research/offices/grants-management/general-information-and-forms.html/
9. PI continues to answer on-screen questions and to attach files in pdf format (Most Word programs have the ability to convert Word files to pdf.) The pdf files should contain no spaces or special characters but may contain underlines.
10. After PI has completed all forms and attachments, he/she should select “Check Package for Error” button at the top of the screen.
11. At least 5 working days before the agency deadline, the PI forwards the complete proposal (with a .pdf extension) as an email attachment to the appropriate Grants Management Specialist (GMS), see list at http://louisville.edu/research/offices/grants-management/grants-management-staff-and-mission-statement.html/ . This should be accompanied by a completed internal Proposal Clearance Form.
12. Within 3 working days, the GMS will send the proposal to Judy Bristow, Catherine Clevinger or Barbara Sells, the only people with authority to actually submit proposal to Grants.gov. These three people are referred to by NIH as Signing Officials or SOs.
13. Grants.gov conducts an electronic check of the application, assigns a tracking number, and sends advisory emails to PI and SO.
14. NIH collects the proposal from Grants.gov.
15. NIH conducts a more extensive electronic check, assigns an NIH tracking number, and sends appropriate emails to PI and SO.
16. Upon receipt of initial email from NIH, the PI must log into the Commons website to check the status of the proposal. If errors are found within the application, the notification email from NIH will list only the first error encountered. Only within the Commons will the PI find a complete list of error messages.
17. PI must correct all errors (warnings can be ignored), resend to the GMS who resends to the SO. The SO submits the proposal to Grants.gov again. All such corrective actions must take place before the original agency deadline.
18. Once the corrected proposal is received at NIH, the PI should log into the Commons and review the proposal in its final format. NIH will have inserted headers, page numbers and a table of contents. This will be the first opportunity the PI has to see the proposal in its final format.
Very Important Notes
1. The most important fact to keep in mind is that you will need to start the process and submit your proposals earlier than you have in the past. The system is new to all of us (including NIH) and we have encountered substantial problems and delays with Grants.gov. As mentioned previously, PIs submitting NIH proposals through Grants.gov must send their final complete proposal, along with a completed Proposal Clearance Form to the Grants Management Specialist, 5 working days before the agency deadline. This is necessary to ensure that your proposal proceeds to peer review.
2. The PI’s work is not completed once the proposal is submitted. The PI should review the application within 48 hours after receiving NIH notification. This will be the first opportunity a PI will have to see the proposal in its final format. Problems identified within 48 hours of its arrival at NIH can be recalled and corrected.
3. You must read the instructions as you’re completing the forms. Fields required by all 26 federal agencies are highlighted in yellow. However, NIH requires additional fields that are not highlighted. You must read the directions to determine which fields must be completed.
Tips (in no particular order)
1. Attachments for NIH proposals must be in pdf format. If you need help in converting Word files to pdf see http://www.grants.gov/assets/PDFConversion.pdf
2. RFAs and PAs will be referred to as Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs).
3. FOAs will be posted on Grants.gov about 60 days in advance and cannot be downloaded until then.
4. In most cases, applications can only be submitted within 30 days of the deadline; this is called the “open date.”
5. SF 424 fields highlighted in yellow must be completed – you may have to insert a “0” or “NA.”
6. Some required fields may not be highlighted but still require data. It is essential that you have the User Guide and the FOA on your desktop as you complete the SF 424.
7. Because of privacy issues, the SO will not see a complete list of errors for a PI’s application. It is incumbent upon the PI to go into the Commons to retrieve the full list of errors and correct them.
8. Do not try to insert headers, footers, or page numbers on the SF 424. Those will be inserted automatically as part of the final pdf file.
9. The Table of Contents will be automatically generated by NIH.
10. The University has already registered in Grants.gov and individuals do not need to register.
11. The institutional DUNS number absolutely must be included in every application. If you are an IAR review with a personal DUNS number, use the institutional number.
12. Read “Avoiding Commons Causes for Rejected Applications” at http://era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/print/tips_tools.htm to ensure you avoid commonly-made mistakes.
13. You will not view your proposal in its final format (as shown to reviewers) until you log into the Commons and view the complete .pdf file. Be sure to check for formatting errors – strange things can happen.
14. A cover letter will not be part of the image and reviewers will not have access to it.
15. The system will not allow you to submit both a detailed and a modular budget.
16. NIH funding opportunities cannot be searched for on the Grants.gov page by CFDA numbers – use keywords or the funding announcement number (example RFA-00-000).
17. Only SOs, not PIs, can submit directly to Grants.gov. PIs submit to their Grants Management Specialist.
18. The proposal in .pdf format can be sent as an email attachment to collaborators. It is best if all people working on the application use the same version of the Adobe reader.
19. PIs should use the “check package for errors” button before sending the proposal to their GMS.
20. After the proposal has been submitted to the GMS, PIs should check their email frequently for updates and important notifications. They should also check the Commons often.
21. Be aware that NIH “warnings” can be ignored but “errors” must be corrected or the proposal will not progress to peer review. Errors must be corrected before the original deadline.
22. Since more and more federal agencies are using Grants.gov logjams are frequent and severe. Occasionally it can take up to 8 hours to submit a single application. Please make every effort to get your proposal in to Grants Management five working days in advance. This protects you in case of adverse electronic events or in the event that corrections must be made. We can no longer assume that NIH will make exceptions for Grants.gov problems.
23. Do not use special characters or spaces in the filename of attachments.
24. You can choose any name for your proposal filename but there file names greater than 50 characters will be truncated.
25. Proposals can’t be changed electronically after the final verification. You may contact the Scientific Grants Administrator for suggestions.
26. Ignore previously published information about using the PureEdge program to complete electronic proposals. Adobe replaced the PureEdge program.
27. Contact Kim Lalley in the Sponsored Programs Development Office, 852-6512, if you have questions or encounter problems.