Monday, July 9, 2012

Can't say it in 6 pages? Don't load up the Appendix!

The new NIH page limits that took effect in 2010 significant cut the length allowance for R01, R03, and R21 applications. This modification has proved difficult for some researchers to adapt to. For parent R01 proposals, what was previously a 25 page research plan is now cut down to 12 pages plus a 1 page aims section. There is much less space to get your point across and convince reviewers that your idea is the best, most innovative, and most worthy of their praise and ultimately NIH funding. This new page limit was created mainly to decrease the burden on reviewers, who devote hours of their time to reading and critiquing applications. The result, unfortunately, is that some researchers have decided to look for a way around the shorter page limits. Instead of following the rules, they prefer to try to sneak one past NIH and put extra information into other sections of the proposal. This is a terrible idea, and one that is sure to backfire and annoy reviewers. Perhaps the first place investigators seek to add extra information is in the Appendix section. Many years ago, placing materials in the Appendix was routinely done to avoid page limit requirements. NIH grew wise to this, however, and over the years began to more tightly regulate what can be included in the Appendix section. Now the instructions are very clear. Ignoring the instructions and trying to pull a fast one may be viewed as being unresponsive to the directions. In an agency that may refuse to score your application because you haven't followed proper font or margin requirements, do you really want to take a chance on including erroneous information in the Appendix?

Here are some excerpts from the SF424 instructions on the Appendix section:
  • Only one copy of appendix material is necessary. Use the Add Attachments button to the right of this field to complete this entry.
  • A maximum of 10 PDF attachments is allowed in the Appendix. If more than 10 appendix attachments are needed, combine the remaining information into attachment #10. Note that this is the total number of appendix items, not the total number of publications. When allowed there is a limit of 3 publications that are not publicly available (see below for further details and check the FOA for any specific instructions), though not all grant activity codes allow publications to be included in the appendix.
  • Do not use the appendix to circumvent the page limits of the Research Strategy. For additional information regarding Appendix material and page limits, please refer to the NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-10-077.
Items that must not be included in the appendix:
  • Photographs or color images of gels, micrographs, etc., are no longer accepted as Appendix material. These images must be included in the Research Strategy PDF. However, images embedded in publications are allowed.
  • Publications that are publicly accessible. For such publications, the URL or PMC submission identification numbers along with the full reference should be included as appropriate in the Bibliography and References cited section, the Progress Report Publication List section, and/or the Biographical Sketch section.
I have seen researchers actually add entire sections to the Appendix to conform to the old sections A-D requirements.  If you write an extra section and include it in the Appendix, at best it will be ignored and not reviewed.  At worst, your application will be labeled nonresponsive to the requirements, and the entire application will be rejected.  This is not worth the risk.  Shorten your research plan and follow the rules like everyone else.

1 comment:

  1. Where I am supposed to put Background/Significance now? There is no room. It is important for reviewers, no?