“I have been writing grant proposals the way I saw fit all my life, and I never had a problem until recently,” a Harvard Medical School emeritus professor told me some months ago, “but now my colleagues tell me I have to follow the instructions.”

I didn’t appreciate the importance of certain details, either—until I began to review grant applications. Although much of the National Institutes of Health application packet is self-explanatory or is explained in the instructions, some insight from a former reviewer may ease the work of filling out your next application. I will use the NIH/PHS-398 form (ROl) as an example.

Although the initial pages in almost any grant application require seemingly straightforward administrative and financial information, you should give serious consideration to how you fill in the blanks.

When you decide on the title of the application, for example, keep in mind that it is one...

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