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Saturday, August 24, 2013

NIH Formatting Errors

For nearly a decade our application guides have included specific formatting instructions for documents included with applications. We've been very specific on such things as the font type (Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia), font size (11 points or larger), type density (15 characters per inch), line spacing (no more than six lines per inch), margins (at least one-half inch on top bottom, left and right) and paper size (standard paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches).
If you forgot (or never knew) that last bit about paper size and you submitted an application after July 18, then our systems may have reminded you with the following error message:
Filename cannot be larger than U.S. standard Letter paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches. Please see our PDF guidelines athttp://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/pdf_guidelines.htm  for additional information. (0.1.7) 
We set formatting requirements for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important one being our strict page limits for Introduction, Specific Aims, Research Strategy and other documents.
Before July we did not systematically enforce the 8.5 x 11 inch paper size. In some cases, our systems even resized documents to the appropriate size for you. Consequently, we had cases where applications got through our systems that were returned post-submission because of incorrect page size or because, after system resizing, the font was no longer in the acceptable range. Applicants were upset because our validations did not catch the issues up front and provide the opportunity to make corrections before the deadline. So, we implemented the systematic enforcement of 8.5 x 11 paper size.
What we didn't realize was just how many documents we receive that are larger (often very slightly) than 8.5 x 11 inches. The most common offenders – Letters of Support, Cover Letters, Appendices and other places where scanning or concatenating from a variety of sources is common. You all apparently do a good job at self-policing paper size for the documents with page limits (kudos to you).
So, here's what we are going to do…we will continue to systematically enforce paper size. However, we will not throw an error until the file is well out of range (bigger than 9 x 12 or 12 x 9 inches). NIH staff will continue to strictly enforce 8.5 x 11 inches for the attachments with page limits. We are phasing out the resizing of documents. If you submit an attachment that is bigger than 8.5 x 11 inches and the assembled image doesn't look quite right (e.g., text falls of the page or our footers overwrite some of your text) we will not consider it a system issue and will not allow corrections after the deadline.  As always, we highly recommend submitting early and carefully checking your application image in eRA Commons before the deadline when corrections are still possible.
We plan to have the validation change in place by the end of this week (August 23, 2013) for applications that use FORMS-B application packages and by the end of next week (August 30, 2013) for applications that use FORMS-C application packages. We have taken steps through timing and monitoring to ensure that all applications for the same opportunity/due date have equal systematic enforcement of business rules.
We have not changed our policy. We still expect a paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches or 11 x 8.5 inches  for all attachments (yes, landscape is OK as long as you keep it to 11 x 8.5). We just want to acknowledge that size matters, but it matters more for some documents than others. We think this is a compromise we can all move forward with.
Sheri Cummins
Communications & Outreach
NIH Office of Extramural Research

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