Release Date: February 1, 2018
Category: Scientific Grant Writing
Author: Michelle S., Ph.D., E.L.S.
Resubmitting a grant proposal is a very common activity among researchers, and usually, PIs can improve their ideas and proposals based on the feedback they receive in their summary statement. When an NIH proposal is resubmitted as an “A1” proposal, the summary statement is made available to the new reviewers, and the PI is given an opportunity to respond to the initial comments in a one-page “Introduction.”
This procedure is probably pretty familiar to most investigators. However, the art of crafting a resubmission proposal and maximizing the Introduction requires some grantsmanship and finesse. It is important to address as many concerns as possible in a single page, which can be challenging. We suggest marking changes in the text of your proposal to strengthen the impact of the application without mentioning the changes in detail on the Introduction page. This will save you precious space on your Introduction page and new reviewers can easily identify your changes.
The most recent policy from the NIH has actually removed the requirement to “identify ‘substantial scientific changes’ in the text of a Resubmission application by ‘bracketing, indenting, or change of typography’.” The full notice can be viewed here: grants.nih.gov. Although it is no longer strictly required, you may still wish to mark the changes you have made. The reviewers will appreciate not having to guess where your changes are. Pairing a clear reference to the new content in the Introduction with a clear demarcation of that content on the corresponding Research Strategy page can go a long way toward giving your busy reviewer a positive impression of your application, helping them recognize and evaluate your response to the original concerns.
How to clearly, but subtly, mark changes in your resubmission: We recommend adding a vertical line (or border) to the left margin of paragraphs that contain the new material. This mark is clean and minimal; it does not encroach on your page limit or disrupt your chosen format for adding emphasis to key points (e.g., denoting critical statements in bold or italics). It also complies with NIH restrictions against using color, underline, or shading to highlight text.
To add a left border in recent versions of Microsoft Word (2013 and 2016), simply place your cursor in the paragraph you wish to mark, and select the “Border” icon from the “Home” toolbar. Choose a left border. A thin, black, vertical line will appear in the margin. We recommend the clean, default line pattern (i.e., solid) and weight (i.e., thickness), but you can customize these details by selecting “Borders and Shading” at the bottom of the drop-down menu that appears when you click the icon.
Please note that you cannot add a border to a single line. Borders can only be added at the paragraph level. However, we have found that marking the paragraph is usually sufficient.
To illustrate this approach, we present the following example of a simple, but relevant, weakness identified by a reviewer (Weakness B). First, we will show some limited text responding to the concern in the Introduction. Then we will illustrate a section of the Research Strategy where the concern is addressed and how to mark the change with a left border. By applying both strategies in the proposal, you create a tightly organized resubmission proposal and provide a clear, concise response to the critique.
In the Introduction:
We thank the original reviewers for their valuable critical review of our proposal. We used their comments and suggestions to strengthen our proposal and feel this resubmission is much improved. We have addressed the reviewers’ specific concerns in bullets below. In the revised Research Strategy, we have indicated new text with a vertical line in the left margin.
In conclusion, we thank the original reviewers for their suggestions and the opportunity to propose a stronger, more scientifically sound proposal.
On page 6 in the Research Strategy:
For example, if this paragraph included text from the original grant that the reviewers liked. It wouldn’t be changed. Thus, there is no line in the left margin of this paragraph.
Hooray for strengthening your grant’s impact through peer review!
Final comments—when to use a vertical line to mark changes: the vertical line in the left margin is extremely helpful for drawing the reviewer’s eye to a specific change on a page. You can use this strategy for a paragraph or two, even up to half a page. However, if your reviewers reject an entire Aim from your original proposal, and you have elected to replace that Aim with something completely new, we would NOT recommend using the left vertical line for an entire page or multiple pages. Similarly, the NIH discourages marking extensive sections of text by any other means (nexus.od.nih.gov). Instead, simply explain the change in in the Introduction. For example:
In the Introduction:
Overall, the reviewers of the original proposal felt that Specific Aim 2 lacked adequate rationale, making the proposed experiments too high-risk. Thus, we removed the original Specific Aim 2 from the proposal and changed the direction of our research. Please see the revised Specific Aim 2 (starting on page 8).
We hope this advice and these examples help you prepare your next NIH resubmission!
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