The Specific Aims page is widely regarded as the most important page of an NIH grant application. In this component of your grant, the objectives of the proposal should be described clearly and concisely since it will be used by the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) to recruit reviewers for your application. In addition, most members of the study section who review your proposal will only read the Specific Aims page and the project summary/abstract of the application. Thus, the purpose of the Specific Aims is to tell the entire story of your proposal in one page that will excite reviewers, inspire confidence in the PI and research team, and set the framework for the rest of the application.
Components of an Effective Specific Aims Page
There are several helpful online resources available that provide examples and guidance on how to construct a compelling Specific Aims page, including a BioScience Writers article NIH Grant Applications: The Anatomy of a Specific Aims Page and an article from NIH/NIAID on how to Draft Specific Aims. Briefly, the suggested structure and content of a Specific Aims page is as follows:
- Introductory paragraph: Use the first paragraph to capture the attention of the reviewers. Describe the significant gap in knowledge that directly relates to the critical need the granting agency funds.
- Second paragraph: Use this paragraph to introduce the solution that fills the gap in knowledge described in paragraph #1. Lay the groundwork for convincing your reviewers that you (and your team) have the knowledge and expertise to solve the problem.
- The Aims: In this section, you will briefly describe each of the aims you will use to test your hypothesis. Within 2-4 sentences per aim, describe the experimental approach and how each aim will help answer your larger hypothesis.
- Final/summary paragraph: The final paragraph should describe what is innovative about your project, the expected outcomes of the proposal, and the broader impact it would have on your area of research.
Assessing Your Aims
Writing a Specific Aims page should be an iterative process. After you have constructed the first draft of your Specific Aims, ask yourself:
- Would reviewers see the proposed project as tackling an important problem in a significant field?
- Would reviewers view the Specific Aims as capable of opening new discoveries in this field?
- Would reviewers regard the work as new and unique?
- Would reviewers view the Specific Aims as likely to exert a significant influence on the research field involved?
- Are the Specific Aims written clearly and are they easy to understand?
After you do a self-assessment on your Specific Aims, it’s beneficial to get critiques from colleagues as well as others who aren’t in your research field. If a diverse group of researchers understands your Specific Aims and gets excited about them, it’s more likely a panel of reviewers will as well. Consider doing a Chalk Talk within your department for added benefit, and be sure to invite investigators who have been successful in obtaining funding and those with experience serving on study sections.
While the guidance provided above highlights an effective structure of a Specific Aims page, there is flexibility in how elements can be organized and presented. For specific examples of Specific Aims pages from funded proposals in various fields of research, UMMS faculty and staff are encouraged to utilize our Grant Proposal Sampler (Level-2 login information required). Do you have any great grant-related resources to share? We’d love to hear about them. Contact us at email@example.com to share your suggestions and resources.