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PDF Guidelines

To avoid PDF problems, keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. All application attachments MUST be in PDF format. Do not submit attachments in other formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. Other formats may be allowed through but are not accepted by NIH and will result in a submission error.
  2. 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. 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. 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. 

    Note: NIH recognizes that sometimes scanning is necessary, especially when including Letters of Support or other signed documents on business letterhead. 
  4. Attachment file size

    A 0 byte attachment is an invalid PDF. recommends keeping size of attachments to 100 MB or less.

    NIH limits the size of grant application attachments to 35 MB.

    To keep file sizes down, use image compression such as JPEG or PNG. The maximum size of images should be approximately 1200 x 1500 pixels using 256 colors. 
  5. Attachment Filenames

    Filenames can contain any of the following characters: A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore, hyphen, space, period, parenthesis, curly braces, square brackets, tilde, exclamation point, comma, semi colon, apostrophe, at sign, number sign, dollar sign, percent sign, plus sign, and equal sign.

    Since using ampersand requires special formatting (i.e., &amp), NIH recommends avoiding the use of ampersand. 

    Keep filenames to 50 characters or less (including any spaces between words).

    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.

    All attachments in an application (or within a component of a multi-project application) must have unique filenames.

  6. Disable ALL security features in the PDF document.

    eRA systems must be able to both open and edit the documents. Do not encrypt or password protect your documents. Using these features to "protect" your documents, also prevents NIH from opening and processing them. 
  7. 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 - Format to be no larger than standard paper size (8 ½” x 11" for portrait or 11" x 8 ½” for landscape). 

    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 (
    2. Manually type in the URL.  e.g.
    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 ( or