PDF Guidelines

To avoid PDF problems, keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. 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 and will result in a submission error.
  2. 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. In some cases, an error message rather than the bundled file is inserted into the application image without notification of an error to the user. Be sure to carefully check your application image. 
  3. 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/web/grants/support/technical-support/software/pdf-conversion-software.html .

    Note: NIH recognizes that sometimes scanning is necessary, especially when including Letters of Supprt or other signed documents on business letterhead. 
  4. A 0 byte attachment is an invalid PDF.
  5. Attachment Filenames

    Do not use ampersand (&) in filenames.

    Additionally, eRA systems can only support single spaces between words in filenames. For example, 'abc  def.pdf' with two spaces between 'abc' and 'def' will result in an error, while 'abc def.pdf' with a single space will not.

  6. 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.”
  7. It is important that the submitted PDF be a "flat file". Do not mark-up your PDFs with 'comments', 'sticky notes' or other features that are added 'on top of' your pdf document. This information may not appear in your final application image.

    In most cases, the use of 'fillable PDFs' (PDF documents that include fields for user input) as attachments is acceptable.

    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.
  8. 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).
  9. Follow Application Guide instruction for font, paper size and margins and verify adherence to requirements after converting to PDF.

    Font -  Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface, a black font color, and a font size of 11 
    points or larger. Type density, including characters and spaces, must be no more than 15 characters per inch. Type may be no more than six lines per inch.

    Paper size - Use standard paper size (8 ½” x 11"). 

    Margins - Use at least one-half inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right) for all pages. No information should 
    appear in the margins, including the PI’s name and page numbers.
  10. Do not include any information in the header or footer area of the attachments. Applicants are encouraged to use Section Headings within the document rather than actual headers. 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. 
  11. 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:

    1. Use the Microsoft Word hyperlink feature and display the actual URL text e.g. NIH (http://www.nih.gov/)
    2. Manually type in the URL.  e.g. http://www.nih.gov/
    3. 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/.