Research Strategy

For an R’s & U’s Series, the Research Strategy is limited to 12 pages for the three main sections and the preliminary studies only. Other items are not included in the page limit.

**For U01 Proposals -please pay special attention to your RFA.  U01 proposals are usually milestone driven.  The RFA will state additional instructions that need to be included in your Research Strategy.

Your Research Strategy is the bigger part of your application’s Research Plan (the other part is the Specific Aims—discussed above.)

The Research Strategy is the nuts and bolts of your application, describing the rationale for your research and the experiments you will do to accomplish each aim. It is structured as follows:

  • Three main sections
    1. Significance
    2. Innovation
    3. Approach
  • Preliminary Studies (for new applications) or a Progress Report (for renewal and revision applications).
  1. You can either include this information as a subsection of Approach or integrate it into any or all of the three main sections.
  2. If you do the latter, be sure to mark the information clearly, for example, with a bold subhead.
  • Possible other sections, for example, human subjects, vertebrate animals, select agents, and others (these do not count toward the page limit).

Though how you organize your application is largely up to you, NIH does want you to follow these guidelines:

  • Add bold headers or an outlining or numbering system—or both—that you use consistently throughout.
  • Start each of the Research Strategy’s sections with a header: Significance, Innovation, and Approach.
  • Organize the Approach section around your Specific Aims.

Find instructions for R01s in the SF 424 Application Guide—go to NIH’s SF 424 (R&R) Application and Electronic Submission Information(link is external) for the generic SF 424 Application Guide or find it in your funding opportunity announcement (FOA).

For most applications, you need to address Rigor and Reproducibility(link is external) by describing the experimental design and methods you propose and how they will achieve robust and unbiased results. The requirement applies to research grant, career development, fellowship, and training applications.

If you’re responding to an institute-specific program announcement (PA) (not a parent program announcement) or a request for applications (RFA), check the NIH Guide notice, which has additional information you need. Should it differ from the FOA, go with the NIH Guide.

Also note that your application must meet the initiative’s objectives and special requirements. NIAID program staff will check your application, and if it is not responsive to the announcement, your application will be returned to you without a review.

Advice for a Successful Research Strategy

When writing your Research Strategy, your goal is to present a well-organized, visually appealing, and readable description of your proposed project. That means your writing should be streamlined and organized so your reviewers can readily grasp the information. If writing is not your forte, get help.

There are many ways to create an outstanding Research Plan, so explore your options.

What Success Looks Like

Your application’s Research Plan is the map that shows your reviewers how you plan to test your hypothesis.

It not only lays out your experiments and expected outcomes, but must also convince your reviewers of your likely success by allaying any doubts that may cross their minds that you will be able to conduct the research.

Notice in the sample applications how the writing keeps reviewers’ eyes on the ball by bringing them back to the main points the PIs want to make. Write yourself an insurance policy against human fallibility: if it’s a key point, repeat it, then repeat it again.

The Big Three

So as you write, put the big picture squarely in your sights. When reviewers read your application, they’ll look for the answers to three basic questions:

  1. Can your research move your field forward?
  2. Is the field important—will progress make a difference to human health?
  3. Can you and your team carry out the work?

Add Emphasis

Savvy PIs create opportunities to drive their main points home. They don’t stop at the Significance section to emphasize their project’s importance, and they look beyond their biosketches to highlight their team’s expertise.

Don’t take a chance your reviewer will gloss over that one critical sentence buried somewhere in your Research Strategy or elsewhere. Write yourself an insurance policy against human fallibility: if it’s a key point, repeat it, then repeat it again.

Add more emphasis by putting the text in bold, or bold italics (in the modern age, we skip underlining—it’s for typewriters).

Here are more strategies from our successful PIs:

  • While describing a method in the Approach section, they state their or collaborators’ experience with it.
  • They point out that they have access to a necessary piece of equipment.
  • When explaining their field and the status of current research, they weave in their own work and their preliminary data.
  • They delve into the biology of the area to make sure reviewers will grasp the importance of their research and understand their field and how their work fits into it.