The Do’s & Don’ts of Hyperlinks in Grant Applications

The do’s and don’ts of hyperlinks in grant applications are simple:

  • Do include hyperlinks when explicitly requested in application guide, funding opportunity, or NIH Guide notice instructions
  • Do use hyperlinks in relevant citations and publications included in biosketches and publication list attachments
  • Don’t use hyperlinks anywhere else in your application

It would be hard to read more than a couple paragraphs on the internet these days without encountering a hyperlink to a definition or additional clarifying information. Hyperlinks are everywhere. So, why does NIH limit the use of hyperlinks in grant applications?

  • Fairness. Key sections of NIH grant applications – Specific Aims, Research Strategies, and Training Program Plans, to name a few – are page limited. Page limits promote fairness by ensuring all applicants have an equal opportunity to present their proposed project. Linking out to additional supporting information negates our page limits.
  • Reviewer Anonymity. We instruct reviewers to rely on the information contained in the grant application and caution them not to follow unrequested links to websites. Website access, especially access to sites controlled by the institution or PI, can be tracked and can compromise reviewer anonymity.
  • Security. Just like clicking on links in phishing emails, following links in grant applications can expose a reader to viruses, malware, or other security threats that can compromise our ability to protect application information.  

At the end of the day, risk avoidance may be the most convincing reason to avoid unrequested hyperlinks. NIH may withdraw your application from consideration if you include them. Don’t risk it. Write a compelling, self-contained grant application and let it speak for itself.

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5 thoughts on “The Do’s & Don’ts of Hyperlinks in Grant Applications

  1. This is good that your office send out these kind of information. Research Administrators get to enhance more of their knowledge to research portfolio.

    Thank you so much,
    School Research Administrator
    Office of Research Excellence
    Milken Institute School of Public Health
    The George Washington University
    Washington, DC

  2. Hyperlinks, are also used to cite a website when there is no other way to cite the source information. What should people do to cite the source, such as a NIH, foundation, or brain bank webpage, in the grant when only a hyperlink is available?

      • The instruction ““Do use hyperlinks in relevant citations and publications included in biosketches and publication list attachments” does not make clear whether “publication list attachments” means to include ‘list of references cited’. It the instruction means to include ‘list of references cited,’ I don’t see a downslide to the instruction clearly stating so.

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