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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