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HomeProposal WritingSubmitting an NIH SBIR/STTR Proposal? Tell Your Story in “Specific Aims”

Submitting an NIH SBIR/STTR Proposal? Tell Your Story in “Specific Aims”

June 4th, 2012 | by Andrea Johanson

In working with BBC clients, we find that the best first step in developing an SBIR/STTR proposal is to draft the one-page Specific Aims document. The Specific Aims section is the most important page in your proposal. In it you should state concisely the goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcomes, including the impact that the results of the proposed research will have on the research field involved and/or on clinical practice. Remember that the reviewers will ultimately give your proposal a score based on what they consider the Overall Impact of your project to be, so if the impact of your technology is not the focus of your Aims, it isn’t written correctly.

Think of the Specific Aims section as an Executive Summary that tells your story.  The 2-3 primary reviewers will (hopefully) read your entire proposal, but others on Study Section may only read the Specific Aims and glance at your biosketches, so this one page must pack a punch. The Aims should be easily comprehensible to an educated lay person, i.e. someone not involved in the same area of research, so avoid acronyms, and technical jargon unless you first explain them. Take a step back, read it aloud to make sure that it flows.  Check that you are really telling the story of your technology from the problem it is addressing, right through to the commercial application that explains how you as a small company are going to commercialize a product. Because this is an SBIR/STTR the Specific Aims section must contain a summary of both the technological innovation, and its commercial potential.

With the August 5 NIH deadline approaching, now is the time to think about how to position your company in the most compelling way in this critical section of your proposal.


Andrea Johanson, Ph.D., is Principal Consultant with BBC, specializing in SBIR/STTR proposal preparation for the National Institutes of Health.


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