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HomeFederal FundingSubmitting to NIH? Get to the Point in Your Project Summary

Submitting to NIH? Get to the Point in Your Project Summary

November 5th, 2012 | by Jayne Berkaw
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In a previous post, I advised those preparing SBIR/STTR proposals for NIH to consider the Specific Aims section the most important page in their submission. Also right up there in significance is the Project Summary/Abstract.

The Project Summary/Abstract includes a summary of the proposed project activity suitable for dissemination to the public and understandable to a scientifically or technically literate lay reader. It should be a self-contained description of the project with a statement of objectives and methods to be employed.         

If the one page Specific Aims section is an executive summary of your proposal, think of the Abstract as an executive summary of your Specific Aims.

NIH Says: Be Brief, Pick Useful Keywords, and Use Lay Language

That’s it in a nutshell, but here are a few more tips:

  • Expect all the peer reviewers to read your Abstract, and it may be all they read, so make it good!
  • The very first sentence should state the significance of your research to your field and relevance to the NIH mission: to improve human health.
  • Include the following:
      1. A description of the Problem
      2. A description of your Product/technology
      3.  The technical Innovation of your product
      4. The Long-Term Goal of the project
      5. State your Hypothesis and Specific Aims for Phase I
      6. Briefly state your Phase II Objectives
      7. Describe the Commercial Opportunity
  • Don’t include graphs or images.
  •  Make sure to include appropriate keywords so NIH referral staff can assign your application and NIH computer systems can retrieve your grant properly.

If all that isn’t enough, you have to do it in no more than 30 lines of text in the required font and within specified margins.  If it is longer than 30 lines, it will cause an error in electronic submission.  This is a good time to repeat BBC’s well-worn mantra about submitting early to allow time for problems that may arise with electronic submission and correct any errors.  If you’re looking toward the Dec. 5 deadline, plan to submit on Dec. 1.

One final note of advice: Do not include proprietary, confidential information or trade secrets in the description section. If the application is funded, the Project Description will be entered into an NIH database, made available on the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORTER) and become public information.


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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