NIAID Funding News

“are there guidelines for the font i use in my application”.

Funding News Edition: March 18, 2020 See more articles in this edition

Yes. Our rules for font prevent applicants from side-stepping application page limits by requiring:

  • 11-point font size or larger
  • No more than 15 characters per linear inch (including spaces)
  • No more than 6 lines per vertical inch

We recommend but do not require the following font types: Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, and Palatino Linotype.

Legibility is key. Since some PDF converters may reduce the font size from what you used in your source document, always confirm that your final PDF document complies with the font requirements.

Find NIH’s guidance in the Font and Line Spacing section of the Format Attachments page. Also see NIH’s Format Attachments (Fonts, Margins, and More) frequently asked questions to learn more.

Email us at  [email protected] for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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Notice Number: NOT-OD-17-030

Key Dates Release Date: January 4, 2017  

Issued by National Institutes of Health ( NIH ) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality ( AHRQ )

This Notice replaces all previous font guidance. It updates our recommended font list and no longer requires that black text be used within grant application attachments.

For applications submitted for due dates on or after January 25, 2017, text in PDF attachments must follow these minimum requirements:

Since some PDF converters may reduce font size, it is important to confirm that the final PDF document complies with the font requirements.

The following fonts are recommended, although other fonts (both serif and non-serif) are acceptable if they meet the above requirements.

Legibility is of paramount importance. Applications that include PDF attachments that do not conform to the minimum requirements listed above may be withdrawn from consideration.

Related Resources

Please direct all inquiries to:

NIH Grants Information Email:  [email protected]  (preferred method of contact) Telephone: 301-945-7573

NIH Office of Extramural Research Logo

Note: For help accessing PDF, RTF, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Audio or Video files, see Help Downloading Files .

University of Vermont

Tim plante, md mhs, getting your grant below the page limit using built-in ms word features, it’s just a little too long.

You’ve toiled on your grant day in and out for weeks on end, and despite chopping out loads of overly verbose text, it’s still over the length. It turns out that there are some built-in settings in MS Word to help you get below the length limit without removing additional text. This post is focused on NIH grant formatting but details here are relevant for most grants. This also assumes that you are already using narrow margins. I made up a 4 page ‘ipsum lorem’ document for this so I can give actual quantifications of what this does to document length.

Hyphenation and justification

I only just learned about hyphens from Jason Buxbaum in this tweet . Hyphenation breaks longer words across lines with a hyphen in the style commonly used in novels. Hyphenation will get you a few lines in a 4 page document.

Justification makes words reach from the left to rightmost extremes of the margin, stretching or compressing the width of the spacing between words to make it fit. Justification’s effect on length is unpredictable. Sometimes it shortens a lot, sometimes it stays the same, sometimes it’s a smidge longer. In my 4 page ipsum lorem document, the length didn’t change. It’s worked to shorten some prior grants, so it’s worth giving a try. (Also, try combining justification with different fonts, see below.)

Here is the button to turn on justification.

Personally, I like ragged lines (“align left”) and not justified lines because I find justified text harder to read. I have colleagues who really like justification because it looks more orderly on a page. If you are going to use justification, please remember to apply it to the entirety of the text and not just a subset of paragraphs for the same reason that you don’t wear a tie with a polo shirt.

You can try combining hyphenation and justification, though I’m not sure it will gain anything. It didn’t in my demo document.

Modifying your size 11 font

Try georgia, palatino linotype, or helvetica fonts instead of arial.

The NIH guidelines specify size 11 Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, and Palatino Linotype fonts as acceptable options. (Note: Helvetica doesn’t come pre-installed on Windows. It’s pre-installed on Mac.) There were not major differences in length in my aligned-left ipsum lorem document between any of the fonts when the lines were aligned-left. But, try combining different fonts with justification . In the ipsum lorem document, justified Georgia was a couple of lines shorter than any other combinations of aligned-left/justification and NIH-approved fonts in Windows.

Condensing fonts

Kudos to Jason Buxbaum for this one . You can shrink the space between your letters without actually changing the font size/size of the letters. Highlight your text then home –> font little arrow –> advanced –> spacing becomes condensed then change the selecter menu to 0.1 pt.

nih grant proposal font size

This change will give you a few lines back in a 4 page document.

I can’t tell the difference in the letter spacing before and after using 0.1. If you increase to a number larger than 0.1, it might start looking weird, so don’t push it to far.

A word of advice with this feature: If you are too aggressive, you might run amok with NIH guidelines , which specify 15 characters per linear inch, so double check the character count in an inch (view –> ruler will allow you to manually check). FYI: all NIH-approved fonts are proportional fonts so narrow characters like lowercase L (“l”) take up less width than an uppercase W, and a random sample of text that happens to have a lot of narrow letters might have more than 15 characters/linear inch. You might need to sample a few inches to get a better idea of whether you or not are under the 15 character limit. (In contrast, Courier is a monospaced font and every character is exactly the same width.)

Adjust line and paragraph spacing

Both line and paragraph spacing affect the amount of white space on your page. Maintaining white space in your grant is crucial to improve its readability, so don’t squeeze it too much. In my opinion folks will notice shrunken paragraph spacing but not shrunken line spacing. So if you have to choose between modifying line or paragraph spacing, do line spacing first.

You can modify line and paragraph spacing by clicking this tiny checkbox under home tab –> “paragraph”.

Remember to highlight text before changing this (or if you are using MS Word’s excellent built-in Styles, just directly edit the style).

Line spacing

As long as you have 6 or fewer lines per vertical inch (view –> ruler will allow you to manually check), you are set by NIH guidelines . The default line spacing in MS Word is 1.08. Changing it to “single” will give you back about and eighth of a page in a 4 pg document. Today I learned that there’s ANOTHER option called “exactly” that will get you even more than a quarter of a page beyond single spacing. Exact spacing is my new favorite thing. Wow. Thanks to Michael McWilliams for sharing exact line spacing in this tweet . I wouldn’t go below “exactly” at 12 pt because that gets you at about 6.5 lines per inch, which goes against NIH standards of 6 lines per inch.

Paragraph spacing

The default in MS Word is 0 points before and 8 points after the paragraph. I don’t see a need to have any gaps between a heading and the following paragraph , so set the line spacing before and after headings to be zero. Looks nice here, right?

nih grant proposal font size

Now you can tweak the spacing between paragraphs . I like leaving the before to zero and modifying the after . If you modify the before and not the after, you’ll re-introduce the space after the header. Also, leave the “don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” box unchecked of you’ll have no spacing between most paragraphs.

nih grant proposal font size

Here’s the same document from above changing the after spacing from 8 to 6 points .

nih grant proposal font size

Looks about the same, right? This got us about 3 lines down on a 4 pg document. Don’t be too greedy here, if you go too far, it’ll look terrible (unless you also indent the first line, but then you run the risk of it looking like a high school essay).

Play around with modifying both paragraph and line spacing. Again, I recommend tweaking line spacing before fiddling with paragraph spacing.

Window/orphan control, or how to make paragraphs break at the maximum page length

MS Word tries to keep paragraphs together if a small piece of it extends across pages. For example, if the first line of a paragraph is on page 2 and the rest of the paragraph is on page 3, it’ll bring that first line so that it ALSO starts on page 3, leaving valuable space unused on page 2. This is called window/orphan control, and it’s easy to disable. Highlight your text and shut it off under home –> paragraph tiny arrow –> line and page breaks then uncheck the window/orphan control button.

nih grant proposal font size

This gives a couple of lines back in our 4 page document.

Modifying the format of embedded tables of figures

Tables and figures can take up some serious real estate! You might want to nudge a figure or table out of the margin bounds, but that will get you in some serious trouble with the NIH — Stay inside the margins! Try these strategies instead.

Wrap text around your tables or figures

Consider reclaiming some unused real estate by wrapping the text around tables or figures. Be warned! Wrapping text unearths the demons of MS Word formatting . For this example, we’ll focus on just wrapping text around a table to make a ‘floating table’. Below is an example of a table without text wrapping.

nih grant proposal font size

Right click on your table and select “Table Properties” then click right or left alignment and set text wrapping to around.

nih grant proposal font size

Adjust your row width a bit and now you have a nice compact table! But wait, what’s this? The table decided to insert itself between a word and a period! That’s not good.

nih grant proposal font size

When MS Word wraps text around a table, it decides the placement of the now floating table by inserting an invisible anchor followed by a line break. Here, there’s an invisible anchor is placed between “nunc” and the period. Your instinct will be to move the table to fix this problem, and that is the wrong thing to do. Avoid moving the table because the anchor will do unpredictable things to your document’s formatting . This is so well known to create havoc that it led to a viral Tumblr post from user laurelhach :

laurelhach: using microsoft word *moves an image a mm to the left* all text and images shift. four new pages appear. paragraph breaks form a union. a swarm of commas buzzes at the window. in the distance, sirens. Text Font Line

Moving tables is pointless in MS word because it doesn’t do what you think it does and you will be sad. Move the text instead. Here, highlight that stray period and the rest of the paragraph starting with “Mauris eleifend” and move it where that weird line break occurred after “nunc”.

nih grant proposal font size

There will be a new line break to erase, but the table should now follow the entire paragraph.

If you are hopelessly lost in fighting the MS Word Floating Table Anchor Demon, and the table decides that it doesn’t want to move ever or is shifted way to the right (so much so that it’s sitting off screen on the right), then the invisible anchor might be sitting to the right of the final word in a heading or paragraph. I recommend reverting the floating table to a non-text wrapped table to figure out what’s wrong and fix everything. Right-click the table and open up the “table properties” option again and change the text wrapping to “none”. The table will appear where the invisible anchor is and now you can shift around the text a bit to get it away from the end of a sentence. Now turn back on text wrapping. This usually fixes everything.

Note: I actually made the table intentionally insert between ‘nunc” and the period for this example. This was just a re-enactment so it’s not MS Word’s fault — this time. BUT this really happens. It’s very problematic if you have >1 table or figure on a page because the Floating Table Anchor Demons will fight with each other and your grant’s formatting will pay.

Shrink the font in your tables

The NIH guidelines don’t specify a font size to use in tables, just something that can be read. I typically use size 9 font.

Reduce cell padding in your tables

This is especially helpful for tables with lots of cells. Reducing the cell padding shrinks the white space between the text in a cell and borders of the tables. In contrast with the “save the whitespace” principle of lines and paragraph spacing, I personally think that less white space in tables improves readability. Here’s before, with default cell margins of 0.08:

nih grant proposal font size

Highlight your entire table and you’ll notice a new contextual ribbon with “design” and “layout” tabs appear. Click layout –> cell size little arrow –> cell –> options –> uncheck the box next to same size as the whole table then reduce the cell margins.

nih grant proposal font size

Here’s that same table reduced with cell margins reduced from 0.08 to 0.03.

nih grant proposal font size

Now you can strategically adjust the column size to get back some space.

Also note that you can also apply justification and adjust the line and paragraph spacing within your tables, which might also help shrink these things down a bit.

Did I miss anything?

If I did, shoot me an email at [email protected]!


NIH Salary Cap

The Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019, restricts the amount of direct salary to Executive Level II of the Federal Executive pay scale. The Office of Personnel Management has recently released new salary levels for the Executive Pay Scale. Effective January 6, 2019, the salary limitation for Executive Level II is $192,300.

For awards issued in those years that were restricted to Executive Level II (see historical record of salary cap link below), including competing awards already issued in FY2019, if adequate funds are available in active awards, and if the salary cap increase is consistent with the institutional base salary, grantees may rebudget funds to accommodate the current Executive Level II salary level. However, no additional funds will be provided to these grant awards.

For a historical record of the salary cap, including effective dates, see:

Guidance on Salary Limitation for Grants and Cooperative Agreements FY 2019 Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-099

Extension of Comment Period on Draft Report: Reducing Administrative Burden to Researchers for Animal Care and Use in Research Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-057

Notice of Clarification Regarding Harassment and Discrimination Protections in NIH Training Applications Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-056

Removal of the Requirement for Institutional Review Board Review of NIH Grant Applications and Contract Proposals Related to Research Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-055

NIH Policy for Review and Resubmission of New Investigator R01 Applications Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-053

NIH Implementation of the Final Rule on the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-050

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Stipends, Tuition/Fees and Other Budgetary Levels Effective for Fiscal Year 2019 Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-036

Publication of the Revised NIH Grants Policy Statement (Rev. October 2018) for FY 2019 Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-021

NIH & AHRQ Announce Upcoming Updates to Application Instructions and Review Criteria for Research Grant Applications Notice Number: NOT-OD-18-228

NIH Application Instructions and Updates

NIH Policy on Bio

Headers and Footers

Page Limits

Paper Size and Margins

Font (size, color, type density) and Line Spacing

Adherence to font size, type density, line spacing and text color requirements is necessary to ensure readability and fairness. Although font requirements apply to all attachments, they are most important and most heavily scrutinized in attachments with page limits.

Text in your attachments must follow these minimum requirements:

We recommended the following fonts, although other fonts (both serif and non-serif) are acceptable if they meet the above requirements.

Legibility is of paramount importance. Applications that include PDF attachments that do not conform to the minimum requirements listed above may be withdrawn from consideration.

Format Pages

Combining Information into a Single Attachment

Electronic Signatures

Helpful Tips :

Allowable fonts and fonts sizes : Arial, Courier New or Palatino Linotype in 10 pt. or larger, Times New Roman or Computer Modern Family in 11 pt. or larger. The font size of less than 10 points may be used for mathematical formulas or equations, figures, tables, or diagram captions and when using a Symbol font to insert Greek letters or special characters. Peers are cautioned, however, that the text must still be readable. Margins : 1 inch in all directions ; Line Spacing: No more than 6 lines of text within a vertical space of 1 inch.

NIH Biosketches and Other Support Templates and Examples

All senior/key personnel and other significant contributors must include biosketches. Biosketches are required in both competing applications and progress reports. Figures, tables (other than those included in the provided format pages), or graphics are not allowed in the biosketch. Do not embed or attach files (e.g. video, graphics, sound, data). The biosketch may not exceed five pages per person. 

NIH Biosketch Instructions and Formatting

NIH Biosketch Template

NIH Biosketch Example

Current and Pending Support

Note: the terms “current and pending support,” “other support,” and “active and pending support” are used interchangeably.

Information on Current and Pending Support is required for all applications that are to receive grant awards, except Program Directors, training faculty and other individuals involved in the oversight of training grants. Other Support includes all financial resources; however, training awards, prizes, or gifts do not need to be included.  There is no “form page” for reporting Current and Pending Support. Information collected should include: Project number, Contact Principal Investigator, source of support, title of project/subproject, dates of approved/proposed project and person months.

NIH Current and Pending Instructions and Formatting

NIH Current and Pending Template

NIH Current and Pending Example

Upcoming NIH Application Deadlines and Request for Applications

Click this link to be directed to the NIH Website.

If wanting to submit a proposal for an NIH grant please complete and submit this online form . Please use your TIMES credentials to login and access the form. 

How to Prepare Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR)

NIH Rules for Text Fields

You will find several kinds of fields in your application forms – check boxes, dates, data entry fields and attachments. This page provides guidance on attachments. Attachments are documents that are prepared outside the application using whatever editing software you desire (e.g., Microsoft Word), converted to PDF format and then added or uploaded to your application. We require PDF format to preserve document formatting and a consistent reading experience for reviewers and staff.

We have very specific attachment formatting requirements. Failure to follow these requirements may lead to application errors upon submission or withdrawal of your application from our review process.  

  Combining Information into a Single Attachment


  File Size

Fillable PDFs

In most cases, the use of fillable PDFs (PDF documents that include fields for user input) as attachments is acceptable. Just pay special attention to these attachments when reviewing your final application image to ensure all your supplied data is retained.

Legibility is of paramount importance. Applications that include PDF attachments that do not conform to the minimum requirements listed above may be withdrawn from consideration.  


Use English.

Avoid jargon.

Spell out acronyms the first time they are used in each application section/attachment and note the appropriate abbreviation in parentheses. The abbreviation may be used in the section/attachment thereafter.   Headers and Footers

  Hyperlinks and URLs


  Marking up Attachments


  Page Limits

  Paper Size and Margins


  Security Features

  Single vs. Multi-column Page Format


Rules for Text Fields

You will find several kinds of fields in your application forms – check boxes, dates, data entry fields and attachments. This page provides guidance on text data entry fields. In general text data entry fields only allow plain text (little to no formatting, only line breaks and spacing).  Allowable Characters

o   “Smart quotes” or “curly quotes” that curve into your text – use straight single and double quotes (the ones you type from your keyboard) instead. o   “Em-dash” (the long dash) – use the short dash instead.   Cutting and Pasting

Field Lengths

         First paragraph.          – list item one          – list item two          Next paragraph.

         1. list item one              a. list item 1a              b. list item 1b                  – bullet one                  – bullet two          2. list item two

NIH Format Attachments

Happening Now:

Pre-Award Side Bar


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  2. “Are there guidelines for the font I use in my application?”

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  6. Getting your grant below the page limit using built-in MS Word features

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  7. Agency Formatting Requirements*

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