We do not support your browser. Please take a moment and upgrade to the most recent version of Internet Explorer.

NSF requirements banner

NSF Requirements

This page describes the required elements for most National Science Foundation (NSF) grant applications. Instructions for RAPID, EAGER, RAISE, GOALI, Ideas Lab, FASED, conference, equipment, travel, center, research infrastructure, and fellowship applications may differ slightly from these requirements. Be sure to check your specific funding opportunity announcement for details.

Formatting: Font must be 10pt or larger (for Arial, Courier New, Palatino Linotype), or 11pt for Times New Roman. Margins are 1” minimum.

This information is taken from the newest NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG 20-1), which includes changes to many sections of the proposal, effective June 1, 2020. If you are looking for a component that you do not see reflected here, please contact the CTSI Grants Submission Unit at gsu@mednet.ucla.edu.

Cover Sheet/Page

The grant application cover page is a form generated by the online application system that asks questions about your application and allows you to upload PDF files of single-copy documents, such as a data management plan or mentoring plan. Many boxes are pre-filled as part of the system’s login process. There are four major components of the Cover Sheet:

  1. Awardee Organization/Primary Place of Performance
  2. Program Announcement/Solicitation/Program Description Number
  3. NSF Unit of Consideration
  4. Remainder of the Cover Sheet:
    1. Title of Proposed Project
    2. Budget and Duration Information
    3. Announcement and Consideration Information
    4. PI Information and co-PI Information
    5. Previous NSF Award
    6. Consideration by Other Federal Agencies
    7. Awardee Organization Information
    8. Primary Place of Performance
    9. Other Information

Page Limit: None. Recommended 1 page.

Last updated September 18, 2020

Project Summary

The Project Summary consists of the overview, statement of intellectual merit, and statement on broader impacts. The summary should be informative to researchers working in the same or related fields, and, where possible, understandable to a broad audience. It should not be an abstract of the proposal.

  1. Overview: The overview should contain the long-term objectives, followed by the aims and methodology that will support those objectives. This section is the introduction that will illustrate the importance of the project in terms of its effect and impact.
  2. Statement of Intellectual Merit: This section will address what is currently known and, more importantly, what is not known in the field. Applicants should show how the proposal will fill an important gap in existing knowledge. You should also address how the proposed activities will advance knowledge in your own scientific field and across other fields in creative and transformative ways. The qualifications of the Principal Investigator (PI) and the institutional resources are also key elements in this section.
  3. Statement on Broader Impacts of the Proposed Study: The Broader Impacts statement is an important part of the Summary Page and will heavily affect your chances of being funded. This section is about understanding and promoting teaching, training, research and learning, while at the same time advancing the participation of underrepresented groups. Include a description of how science and technology will be enhanced.
Page Limit: One page


Last updated September 27, 2019

Project Description

The Project Description should include sections on 1) Intellectual Merit; 2) Broader Impacts; and 3) Results from Prior NSF Support.

  1. Intellectual Merit: In this section, applicants should address what they want to do, why they want to do it, how they plan to do it, how they will know if they succeed, and what benefits could accrue if the project is successful. Applicants should provide a clear statement of the work to be undertaken and include the objectives for the period of the proposed work and expected significance; the relationship of this work to the present state of knowledge in the field, as well as to work in progress by the PI under other support. NOTE: As of June 1, 2020, you are no longer required to label this as a separate section in the narrative, although you should still address the topic within the document.
  2. Broader Impacts: This section should include a discussion of the broader impacts of the proposed activities. Broader impacts may be accomplished through the research itself, through the activities that are directly related to specific research projects, or through activities that are supported by, but are complementary to the project.
  3. Results from Prior NSF Support (5-page limit within the overall 15 pages): The purpose of this section is to assist reviewers in assessing the quality of previous work conducted with prior or current NSF funding. If any PI or co-PI identified on the proposal has received prior NSF support, this section should be addressed. If no NSF support has been received, simply devote the entire 15 pages to the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts sections.

Page Limit: 15 Pages


  • Examples of project descriptions, from the University of Texas at San Antonio (PDF): Zhu and Kirshnan

Last updated September 18, 2020

References Cited

Reference information is required. Each reference must include the names of all authors (in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication), the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. If readily available, a website address for the publication should be included, but this is optional.

Page Limit: None

Last updated September 27, 2019


A separate biographical sketch (biosketches) PDF file must be uploaded for each individual designated as senior personnel. As of October 5, 2020, the NSF is requiring all investigators to generate their biosketches using the online NIH tool, SciENcv, or the NSF-developed, fillable PDF. (Any other format will receive an error warning upon submittal.) The following information must be provided in the order and format specified below.

  1. Professional Preparation: A list of the individual’s undergraduate and graduate education and postdoctoral training (including location).
  2. Appointments: A list, in reverse chronological order, of all the individual's academic/professional/institutional appointments, whether or not remuneration is received, beginning with the current appointment.
  3. Products: A list of: (i) up to five products most closely related to the proposed project; and (ii) up to five other significant products, whether or not related to the proposed project. Acceptable products must be citable and accessible including but not limited to publications, data sets, software, patents, and copyrights. Unacceptable products are unpublished documents not yet submitted for publication, invited lectures, and additional lists of products.
  4. Synergistic Activities: A list of up to five distinct examples that demonstrate the broader impact of the individual's professional and scholarly activities that focuses on the integration and transfer of knowledge as well as its creation. Note that activities must be specific and may not include multiple examples to describe a single activity.

Page Limit: Two pages per biosketch


Last updated September 18, 2020

Budget and Budget Justification

Each proposal must contain a budget for each year of support requested. The budget justification must be no more than five pages per proposal. The amounts for each budget line item requested must be documented and justified in the budget justification. For proposals that contain a subaward(s), each subaward must include a separate budget justification of no more than five pages.

Page Limit: Five pages per budget justification (per site/subaward)


Last updated September 27, 2019

Current and Pending Support

NSF requires applicants to include a separate PDF for each key personnel clarifying all sources of Current and Pending Support. This includes the current proposed project, and any subsequent funding in the case of continuing grants. All current project support from any source (e.g., Federal, State, local, foreign, public or private foundations, industrial or other commercial organizations, or internal funds allocated toward specific projects) must be listed if the investigator is contributing measurable effort (whether or not salary support is provided). Information required in this section includes:

  • All Current, Pending, Submissions Planned in the Near Future, and Transfers of Support, whether or not they are provided through the proposing organization or directly to the individual
  • Project/Proposal Title
  • Source of Support
  • Total Award Amount (direct + indirect)
  • Total Award Period Covered
  • Location of Project
  • Person-Months Per Year Committed to the Project (Cal/Acad/Summer months)

As of October 5, 2020, some important changes will take effect for this section, including

  • In-kind contributions intended for use on the proposed project must be included as part of the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources and not Current and Pending Support.
  • In-kind contributions not intended for use on the project but that require a time commitment must be reported, such as mentoring students.
  • Gifts do not need to be included if there are no time or other obligations involved.
  • Start-up packages do not need to be reported if they are from your institution.
  • You must report academic year salary.

Page Limit: None


Last updated September 18, 2020

Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources

This section of the proposal is used to assess the adequacy of the resources available to perform the effort proposed to satisfy both the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts review criteria. Applicants should include a description of the internal and external resources (both physical and personnel) that the organization and its collaborators will provide to the project, should it be funded. Major sections include:

  • Facilities: any applicable laboratory, clinical, animal, computer, and office facilities/resources.
  • Major Equipment: important equipment available for this project.
  • Other Resources: any other resources available to the project, including support services such as consultants, secretarial, machine shop, and electronics, as well as the following:
  • Unfunded Collaborators: Any substantial collaboration with individuals not included in the budget (a letter of commitment from these collaborators also should be provided).
  • Senior Personnel: If no person months and no salary are being requested for some Senior Personnel, briefly describe these personnel.

GSU maintains a resource of boilerplate text for many campus facilities that researchers can use to compile this section. 

Page Limit: None


Last updated September 27, 2019

Special Information and Supplementary Documentation

Special information and supplementary documentation submitted in the following areas is not considered part of the 15-page Project Description limitation, nor is it appropriate for the appendix. Please see your specific FOA for guidelines on which of the following supplementary documents might be required as part of your application.

A. Data Management Plan: This should describe how your proposal conforms to NSF’s dissemination policy and commitment to sharing research results. It may include the types of data, samples, physical collections, software, curriculum materials, and other materials to be produced in the course of the project; the standards to be used for data and metadata format and content (where existing standards are absent or deemed inadequate, this should be documented along with any proposed solutions or remedies); policies for access and sharing including appropriate privacy protection, confidentiality, security, intellectual property, or other rights or requirements; policies and provisions for re-use, re-distribution, and the production of derivatives; and plans for archiving data, samples, and other research products, and for preservation of access to them.

Page Limit: Two pages


B. Postdoctoral Mentoring Plan, if applicable: Each proposal that requests funding to support postdoctoral researchers must upload, under “Mentoring Plan”, a description of the mentoring activities that will be provided for all postdoctoral researchers supported by the project, regardless of whether they reside at the submitting organization. Examples of mentoring activities include career counseling; training in preparation of grant proposals, publications and presentations; guidance on ways to improve teaching and mentoring skills; guidance on how to effectively collaborate with researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplinary areas; and training in responsible professional practices.

Page Limit: One page


C. Rationale for performance of all or part of the project off-campus or away from organizational headquarters, if applicable. Provide a brief explanation as to why the project would be conducted partially (or completely) outside the physical location of the sponsoring organization.

D. Letters of Collaboration (not Letters of Support): While letters of collaboration are permitted, unless required by a specific program solicitation, letters of support should not be submitted as they are not a standard component of an NSF proposal. Letters of collaboration should be limited to stating (1) the intent to collaborate, and (2) a commitment of resources, if applicable. It should not contain endorsements or an evaluation of the proposed project.

Page Limit: One page per letter


E. Documentation regarding research involving the use of human subjects. Projects involving research with human subjects must ensure that subjects are protected from research risks in conformance with the relevant Federal policy known as the Common Rule (Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, 45 CFR 690).

Proposals involving human subjects should discuss within the 15-page project description the proposed use of human subjects. Researchers should also include a supplementary document of no more than two pages in length, summarizing potential risks to human subjects, plans for recruitment and informed consent, inclusion of women, minorities, and children and planned procedures to protect against or minimize potential risks.

All projects involving human subjects must either have: (1) approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) before issuance of an NSF award; or, (2) an IRB determination that the project is exempt from review, in accordance with the applicable subsection, as established in 45 CFR ยง 690.104(d) of the Common Rule.

Page Limit: Two pages for supplementary document


F. Documentation regarding research involving the use of vertebrate animals. Researchers are responsible for the humane care and treatment of any vertebrate animal used or intended for use in such activities as field or laboratory research, development, training, experiments, biological testing or for related purposes supported by NSF grants.

For proposals involving the use of vertebrate animals, sufficient information must be provided within the 15-page Project Description to enable reviewers to evaluate the rationale for involving animals; choice of species and number of animals to be used; description of the proposed use of the animals; exposure of animals to discomfort, pain, or injury; and description of any euthanasia methods to be used.

Note: Please check the box for "Vertebrate Animals" on the Cover Sheet for Proposal to the National Science Foundation.

All proposals involving vertebrate animals must have approval from the organization's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) before funding. NSF recommends inclusion of this approval form with the submission of the proposal.

Page Limit: N/A


G. Documentation for projects that involve technology utilization/transfer activities, that require a management plan, or that involve special reports or final products, if applicable. Please note that some program solicitations provide specific guidance on preparation and inclusion of management plans in proposals submitted to NSF.

Last updated February 21, 2020


All information necessary for the review of a proposal must be contained in other sections of the proposal. Appendices may not be included unless authorized by the NSF.

Single-Copy Documents

Certain categories of information that are submitted in conjunction with a proposal are for "NSF Use Only." This information is not provided to reviewers. With the exception of proposal certifications, these documents should be submitted via the online application system’s Proposal Preparation Module. There are no page limits on these documents:

A. List of Suggested Reviewers or Reviewers Not to Include: Applicants may include a list of suggested reviewers (including email address and organizational affiliation) who they believe are especially well qualified to review the proposal. They also may designate persons they would prefer not to review the proposal; as of June 1, 2020, researchers no longer are required to state their reasons for this request. 

The decision regarding whether to use these suggestions remains with the Program Officer.

B. Proprietary or Privileged Information: Patentable ideas, trade secrets, privileged or confidential commercial or financial information should be included in proposals only when such information is necessary to convey an understanding of the proposed project. However, in order to protect privileged information, such information may be included as a separate statement and be submitted as a single-copy document in the Proposal Preparation Module.

Note: The box for "Proprietary or Privileged Information" must be checked on the Cover Sheet when the proposal contains this information.

C. Collaborators & Other Affiliations Information: Information regarding collaborators and other affiliations (COA) must be separately provided for each individual identified as senior personnel on the project. Applicants should use the COA template to provide this information. There are five tables in this template that cannot be altered except to delete the instructions at top, insert rows, and provide additional names:

COA template Table 1: List the individual's last name, first name, middle initial, and organizational affiliation in the last 12 months.

COA template Table 2: List names as last name, first name, middle initial, for whom a personal, family, or business relationship would otherwise preclude their service as a reviewer.

COA template Table 3: List names as last name, first name, middle initial, and provide organizational affiliations, if known, for the following: The individual's Ph.D. advisors, and all of the individual's Ph.D. thesis advisees.

COA template Table 4: List names as last name, first name, middle initial, and provide organizational affiliations, if known, for the following: Co-authors on any book, article, report, abstract or paper with collaboration in the last 48 months (publication date may be later); and collaborators on projects, such as funded grants, graduate research or others in the last 48 months.

COA template Table 5: List editorial board, editor-in chief and co-editors with whom the individual interacts. An editor-in-chief must list the entire editorial board. For Editorial Board: List name(s) of editor-in-chief and journal in the past 24 months; and other co-editors of journal or collections with whom the individual has directly interacted in the last 24 months.

As of June 1, 2020, this template no longer needs to be saved in .xlsx format. Upload it as a Collaborators and Other Affiliations Single Copy Document.


Last updated February 21, 2020