To avoid PDF problems, keep these guidelines in mind:
- NIH only accepts attachments in PDF format. Do not submit attachments in other formats such as Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, etc. Other formats may be allowed through Grants.gov but are not accepted by NIH.
- Note that all PDF attachments must be submitted as individual files. Although some software packages allow bundling of multiple PDFs into a single file, eRA systems cannot support “Bundling” or “Portfolio” features at this time. Use of these features may result in delays in the review of an application or an application not being reviewed.
- It is recommended that applicants avoid scanning text documents to produce the required PDFs whenever possible. Instead, NIH recommends producing the documents electronically using text or word-processing software and then converting documents to PDF. Scanning paper documents, without the proper Optical Character Recognition (OCR) process, will hamper automated processing of your application for NIH analysis and reporting. For additional information on PDF conversion software, visit the Grants.gov website: http://www.grants.gov/agencies/software.jsp#3.
- A 0 byte attachment is an invalid PDF.
- Attachment Filename Characters are now Validated and Enforced by Grants.gov
Valid file names may only include the following UTF-8 characters:
A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore ( _ ), hyphen (-), space, period.
If applicants use any other characters when naming their attachment files their applications will be rejected.
- Disable all security features in the PDF document.
Protected documents prevent NIH from opening and processing the document. Security settings vary by PDF tool, but please ensure security settings are not marked. The applicant needs to look at the Document Security tab under Document Properties (directly from the tab) and set the security parameters to ensure open access so NIH can process the content. For instance, do not password protect the document and do not mark Content Extraction or Copying; Document Assembly, etc as “Not Allowed.”
- It is important that the submitted PDF be a “flat file”, one that is not editable and does not have comments associated with it. If a PDF is submitted that has editable (fill-able) fields or uses comments, that data will be lost when the application image is created, resulting in errors that will prohibit the application from moving forward for consideration.
Recommendation: When provided an option to download an MS Word version of a form or a PDF version of a form, always select the MS Word version of the form, then convert the form to PDF after the form is completed. This process will “flatten” the file, making it acceptable for submission.
- If you are having trouble fixing the PDF settings, simply cut and paste from the PDF document into a Microsoft Word document and then reconvert (in some cases it may be better to use another PDF converter).
- One of the PDF tools that have been working without issue for most applicants is CutePDF.
- Per Application Guide instructions, attachments cannot be larger than U.S. standard Letter paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches. Use at least one-half inch margins (top, bottom, left and right) and do not include any information in the margins.
- Do not include any information in the header or footer area of the attachments. A header will be system-generated that references the name of the PD/PI. Page numbers for the footer will be system-generated in the complete application, with all pages sequentially numbered. Applicants are encouraged to use Section Headings within the document.
- Hyperlinks are not allowed in the SF424 Research Plan documentation where PDFs are uploaded as part of the application. Applicants should check application guide and announcement instructions to determine if active links are allowed in other attachments specific to the FOA. When allowed, a valid URL must be displayed within the document.
There are three ways to successfully include active links:
- Use the Microsoft Word hyperlink feature and display the actual URL text e.g. NIH (http://www.nih.gov/)
- Manually type in the URL. e.g. http://www.nih.gov/
- If authoring documents directly in Adobe Professional, use the insert hyperlink feature.
Please be aware that using the Microsoft Word hyperlink feature and displaying text instead of the actual URL will result in an error, e.g. displaying NIH instead of NIH (http://www.nih.gov/) or http://www.nih.gov/.