Follow Friendly Formats for PDF Attachments


Your grant applications, just-in-time information, and progress reports must all include PDF file attachments. Learn how to make your attachments reader-friendly for both people and electronic systems.

NIH uses your attachments in different ways. Some are read as stand-alone documents. However, most attachments undergo eRA system processing before staff and others use the content. eRA often combines PDF attachments with additional forms and submission data to create consolidated applications or reports. Our systems also “read” PDF attachments and use text data mining for categorization, searches, and further analysis.

You can enhance attachment readability and successful system processing by following the tips below.

  • Font Matters: Use a font that’s 11 points or larger, with a type density of no more than 15 characters per linear inch and line spacing of no more than six lines per vertical inch.
  • Size Your Page: Stick with a paper size no larger than 8 ½ by 11 inches.  
  • Margins Are Key: Allow for at least one-half (½) inch text-free margins at the top, bottom, left, and right of each page.
  • Format Pages: Make use of templates when available, e.g., BiosketchOther Support, and Training Data Tables. Note that some key attachments do not have format pages, e.g., Grant Application Attachments without Format Pages.
  • Fit Page Limits: You can check out our related article Does Every Attachment in a Grant Application Have a Page Limit?
  • Use Clear Language: Avoid technical jargon, particularly for text intended for a public audience (e.g., Abstract.) Write so scientists outside your field can understand your text. Spell out acronyms on first use in each section or attachment. Learn about Plain Language.
  • Flatten It Out: Flatten any PDFs with electronic signatures, fillable fields, or other interactive elements.
  • Name That File: Use descriptive, unique filenames of 50 characters or less.
  • Check File Size: Limit your attachment file sizes to 100 MB or less.
  • Optimize Images: Use image formats with compression, such as JPEG or PNG, to reduce file size. Your images count toward page limits.

Find more detail on attachment requirements in our Format Attachments guide and in the Application Guide. You may also find special instructions or exceptions in your funding opportunity’s NIH Guide notice. For examples of some completed attachments, check Samples: Applications, Attachments, and Other Documents.

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