Change is Coming: Updates to NIH Application Forms and Instructions


We periodically need to update our application forms and instructions to accommodate changing policy, new business needs, and sometimes (not often enough) to reduce the amount of information we ask of you. Given our constraints, we have been working to provide systems support to make the mechanics of these transitions easier for you. This particular set of changes implements a number of policy changes impacting applications submitted in 2016, which we announced in a series of recent NIH Guide notices. We would like to give you a quick overview of what is happening.

We will be rolling out the changes in two phases, as summarized in our notice published in the NIH Guide, since our new application forms will not be ready until the spring.

You may want to pay particular attention to the following changes, effective for applications submitted on or after January 25, 2016:

  • There will be new application requirements and review language regarding enhanced rigor and reproducibility (We’ll be elaborating on these requirements in a separate upcoming post.)
  • We will ask for less information in the vertebrate animal section of the application, to remove redundancy with information already included in IACUC reviews. (Some of this information will be shifted to the research strategy section.)
  • We are updating the NIH policy on inclusion of children to lower the age designation for children to include those under 18 years old. (The current age designation for children includes all research subjects under 21 years old.)
  • For training grants, information requirements will change and lower applicant burden

For due dates of May 25, 2016 and beyond, we will require use of new application forms (FORMS-D). We will remind you again this spring, but please understand that it is imperative that you submit your application on the right form package to ensure successful submission.

We will reissue fellowship, career development, training and all parent funding opportunity announcements this spring, to ensure the announcements include instructions that match the form requirements. We’ll also make a variety of resources available this spring to help ensure you submit using the right forms.

If you have been using the downloadable forms and haven’t tried ASSIST yet, members of my staff (the electronic Research Administration or eRA) are working on enhancing the copy application feature to make it even easier to move your application (including attachments) from one form version to another. During the last round of grant applications, over 25% of the applicants switched from using downloadable forms to ASSIST. They successfully submitted their applications on the first try over 90% of the time compared with only 60% of the time for those still using the standard downloadable forms.

So be on the lookout for new application instructions we will release at the end of November, and for more communications from us as we get closer to the time we move to FORMS-D.


  1. If NIH wants some of the vertebrate animals information and more methodological detail in the research strategy section, then NIH needs to consider increasing the page limit on that section.

    1. I could not agree more – I think this is a really bad idea, especially if one uses a lot of mice. If all I get to say is “I want to use 2,000 mice” and have nowhere in the proposal in which to justify the numbers by breaking them down into detailed groups, then how can a reviewer assess whether my numbers are appropriate? I could pretty much predict that I would get the comment that “animal numbers are excessive”. And where are we supposed to put this level of detail in a 12-page grant? IF justification of vertebrate animal use is important to NIH, then the current form is by far the best approach to that. This issue should not be abrogated to IACUCs – most of them do not see it as their job to offer scientific critique of animal numbers requests so with the new rules there would be minimal oversight of this very important issue

      1. The design of the experiment – which includes designating the group(s) of animals proposed – is still part of the research strategy section, and will be evaluated by peer reviewers as before. We are simply no longer requiring it to be duplicated in the Vertebrate Animal Section as well.

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