The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards the grants through 24 grant-awarding institutes and centers for biomedical and public health research. Early-career academic scientists are most likely to be interested in research project grants, fellowships, and career development awards. As a young scientist doing research directly related to human health, you need to know your way around the NIH grants and funding programs that provide intramural and extramural support of $31 billion in research annually. NIH programs help prepare individuals for careers in biomedical, behavioral, social, and clinical research in times when the research in the past few decades has escalated beyond reach, as per the Tuft Center for the study of Drug Development (Collier, 2009).

The NIH grant awards are divided into four major categories; Research Grants (R series), Research Training and Fellowships (T & F series), Career Development Awards (K series), and Program Project/Center Grants (P series), besides various other programs with various requirements. In 1998, 24,100 grant applications were received, and 7,500 were funded, making it a total of $1.9 billion. By 2005, the number of applications was increased to 43,000, of which 9,600 were funded, making it a total of $3.4 billion. In 2015, 52,000 applications were received, and 9,500 were funded with a total of $4.3 billion. Additionally, NIH received 2097 new proposals in 2010, of which only 355 managed to receive funding. (McGovern, 2012).

This article takes you through the complete application procedure for the R01 grant with a comprehensive subject introduction and process guidance every step of the way.


What is R01 Grant?

Among numerous NIH grants and funding programs, R-series provides funding support for biomedical research projects. There are many categories in R-series grant funding, such as R01, R03, and R21 programs. These mechanisms provide different grant support to a specific type of project. An R01 is the most common and oldest funding mechanism for health research and development projects undertaken by one or more named investigator(s) in an area of specific interest and competence. The funding mechanism of R01 is the common source of NIH funding for independent investigators that can help establish your research career. You can request up to $250,000 per year in direct costs through the modular budget format in 5 years funding provision.

In 2016, 26,187 applications were submitted to NIH for R01 grants. 17.3% were funded, making it a total of $2.2 billion. $460,000 was the average annual budget for the year.


Application Preparation & Development

The following guidance is intended to assist you in the process of developing a strong application that stands a chance of better reviewer evaluation on the grounds of science and merit of your proposal. Reviewing archives of successful applications can help you extraordinarily, particularly if they share the grant mechanism, design, or area. (Karina et al., 2007)


Peer Reviewers Expectation

Understanding your application review criteria can help you build a good application. During the peer review process, there is a panel of non-federal scientists who review your application through multidimensional standards.

The following segments explain the principles reviewers employ to evaluate applications.


Overall Impact

In consideration of the resulting review criteria, reviewers provide an overall impact score based on their assessment of the project probability for compelling influence on the research field(s) involved.


Scored Review Criteria

Reviewers consider the following measures to determine the scientific and technical merit of your proposal and score accordingly.

  • Significance: If the objectives of the project are accomplished, how will scientific awareness, technical capability, or clinical training be improved?
  • Investigator(s):Are the PIs/PD and other researchers suitable to the project? If  New Investigators, do they have appropriate understanding and training?
  • Innovation: Does the application challenge research paradigms by employing innovative theoretical concepts, tactics, or methodologies?
  • ApproachIs the overall strategy well-reasoned and adequate to accomplish the objective of the project? Have the investigators presented satisfactory plans to address biological variables for studies in animals or human subjects?
  • EnvironmentWill the scientific environment in which the research will be conducted contribute to the probability of success? Are the institutional support and other resources available to the investigators adequate for the project proposed?


Research Resources  

Sufficient demonstration of the high quality of PD/PI, the co-investigators, available expertise, resources, applicant institution, and its support of the project is the key to navigate the peer review process successfully. Applicants should be very clear about their inventory of appropriate resources, laboratory space, and equipment to carry out the research.


Cover Letters

This is your only opportunity to have any say on the reviewer panel subject. Give names of any reviewers that should not be on board on the grounds of a possible conflict of interest or area of research. Reviewers are not allowed any access to your assignment request and cover letter.

Be very specific about the assignment request in your cover letter or the assignment request form. Follow guide instructions to determine your request options as well as information selection appropriate to go in the cover letter. Reviewers with proficiency in your field will immediately recognize the potential for your research.

Budget Development

This step takes the most deliberate contemplation and time in the application writing process.

Understand the various mechanisms to determine what is the necessary budget type required to be submitted with your application (stated in your FOA) in cooperation with your institution’s central grants bureau and department administrator.

For additional information, visit The Comprehensive Budget Guide provided by NIH.


Research Plan

The research plan defines your proposed research by listing its significance and conduct process. Be conscious of your audience divide throughout the procedure that only a small number of reviewers will be acquainted with your field techniques, and the majority of them will probably have no idea. To you, every member of the reviewer panel is equally important because each reviewer will get one vote.

The assigned reviewers advocate you in managing the review panel discussion of your application, which makes it imperative for you to win them over in order to succeed in peer review. Write and develop your application in a readily grasping manner that self-explains the proposed gist to the primary reviewer. Appeal to the reviewers and funding ICs in a language that enhances the importance of your anticipated project.


Application Writing

Once you have planned and researched, now it’s time to write.  A well-written application is fundamental to success.

  • Keep Project Goals Realistic

Be realistic. Don’t overestimate and propose work that can’t be practically done during the project period. Make sure your personnel has suitable scientific proficiency and training. Make sure your proposed budget is reasonable and justified.

  • Be Organized

Reviewers are habituated to looking for information in the exact sections of the application form. Start with a framework subsequent to the suggested body of the application. The perceptual dynamics of the application should be straightforward to follow.

  • Use Clear Concise Language 

Start with a clear subject sentence for each paragraph, along with one main idea. Strive for excellent readability key. A reviewer often reads 10-15 thorough applications in a single setting, so the best chance at success for your application is easy-to-read and well-written.

  • Sell Your Idea on Paper

Make a case that instantly captures the reviewers’ attention to why NIH should finance your research. Include sufficient background information to allow a reader with a clear understanding of your proposed work. Support your idea with expert collaborators to assist the project further.

  • Edit yourself

You have possibly been working on the same words and paragraphs repeatedly, allow fresh eyes to go through your content, and check punctuation, and content flow. Rectify each typographical, grammatical and spelling error or untidy formatting. A disorganized application may lead reviewers to the conclusion of similar disorganized research.

  • Remember the Details

Make yourself familiar with format requirements, such as font and spacing before submitting your application and brand sections as directed. Prior to submission, take a good look at the entire grant application one last time. Keep in mind; that you want a convincing proposal that is formatted according to the guidelines, error-free and straightforward.

Note: NIH Systems automatically add headers, footers, time stamping, tracking number, FOA number, and page numbers upon submission. Therefore, do not include any of them.



At this stage, your application should have achieved the following:

  • Verified all requisite registrations are set up and have an active System for Award Management (SAM) registration
  • You have identified your best funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and the due date
  • Selected your submission method (ASSIST)
  • Organized application forms according to application guidelines and announcement
  • Updated your announcement noticeboard for any late alterations
  • Directed your application to an authorized organization representative (AOR) to submit

Submission Process Overview performs some basic application checks after you submit your application to detect a justifiable problem that can have your application rejected with a “Rejected with Errors” status. If it happens, you must check eRA Commons for the status of your application. eRA provides a list of errors and warnings that you must address and resubmit. If no problem is found on a basic check, directs your application to agency recovery for eRA to pick up your error-free application. eRA then generates an associated document of all your submissions to post an application image for 2 business days in eRA Commons Status for you to view. The viewing window allows you to check your assembled application and inform the eRA service desk of any missing attachment or text.

Submit & Track

It is advised to submit your application at least 2 days before the due date in order to have enough time for application tracking and error correction to view your application image by the due date.

  • Regardless of what submission method you opt for, your application will be given a tracking number.
  • You will need this number to track your submission and obtain support.
  • You will also be given a timestamp that will determine if your submission was on-time.
  • Submit your error-free application by 5 p.m. local time of your organization.
  • Local time will be determined by using the address in the Applicant Information section.
  • gov displays their timestamps in Eastern Time but conversion to your local time will be factored in before deciding if you are on time.
  • It is your responsibility to track your application on to an application image in eRA Commons.
  • At this point, you’ll be receiving a series of and eRA Commons notifications by emails through the submission process. It is highly recommended to track your application status on and eRA Commons because often Email can turn unreliable
  • Address any errors pointed in and eRA Commons before the submission deadline.


  1. Collier, R. (2009, February 3). Rapidly Rising Clinical Trial Costs Worry Researchers. CMAJ, 180(3), 277-278.
  2. McGovern, V. (2012, January 1). Getting grants. Virulence, 3(1), 1–11.
  3. Berg, K.M., Gill, T.M., Brown, A.F., Zerzan, J., Elmore, J.G., & Wilson, I.B. (2007, November). Demystifying the NIH Grant Application Process. J Gen Intern Med, 22(11), 1587–1595.