If a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in your future, do yourself a favor and spend some time on the NIH website. Whatever you think about the government’s ability to help, the NIH, especially the Office of Extramural Research, has put some real time and resources into tools designed to improve your chances of being funded.

These tools and resources, to borrow the blog’s tagline, “help connect you with the NIH perspective.” It is a perspective you need in order to explain to the NIH reviewers why your project is worth their funds.

Getting funding from the NIH has become harder. Award rates (defined as “the number of awards made in a fiscal year divided by the absolute number of applications without combining resubmissions that come in during the same fiscal year”) at the NIH have been consistently dropping by 3-5% for a while and there is no reason to believe the trend will end soon. Basically, award rates haven’t been anywhere close 30% since 1999. In 2013, the rate was about 15%. With those kind of odds, it makes sense to use any and all available tools to improve your chances and your writing.

So, how to use these tools? While obviously the answer depends on what you want to know, here is my advice, assuming you have found a funding opportunity at the NIH you want to apply for and are thinking “now what?”

Start with a brief overview of the strategic plan of the Institute(s) associated with the funding opportunity. Reading that plan provides insight on exactly what they are looking to fund which makes it easier for you to clearly present your project as something in that category. As long as you reference it correctly and it flows naturally, I support quoting strategic plans in grant proposals.

There are several ways of getting tips on the NIH and grant writing. A few are:

  • Use the podcasts to listen to or read up on (you can get the transcript) whatever areas interest you. There are 13 episodes in the “Preparing a Successful Grant Application” series (total time: 157 minutes) and 7 in “How NIH Grants are Reviewed (total time: 92 minutes) series, but you can download as many or as few as you want.
  • Go to the Grants Process Overview to get advice about your application. You should also spend time on their guide to budget development.
  • Check out All About Grants: Tutorials and Samples which is useful even if you are not interested in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for funding.

Last, but not least, go to RePORTER. This is a very handy searchable database on current and past projects and will give you an idea of what projects NIH has funded in your area. In an ideal world, you would find projects close but not exactly like yours.