Grant Writing

Specific Aims

Speed Reviews Event

Sponsored by the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR), the Professional Development and Career Office (PDCO), and the Office of Faculty Development (OFD), this special interactive session features speed reviews of aims pages by panels of funded investigators and reviewers. The Specific Aims Speed Review event is held three times per year (April, August, and December) in advance of NIH funding cycles.

Each aims page will be reviewed by 2-3 investigators in a speed-style format: three minutes of verbal feedback by each reviewer, followed by five minutes of questions and answers.
View sample schedule here (PDF).

Individuals can register to have their aims pages reviewed or can come as an observer. Funding mechanisms (subject to change dependent on reviewer availability) include: K23, K08, K99/R00/K25, K01, R01 &U01, and R03/R21/R15 + other independent mechanisms.

A limited number of aims pages are accepted for review, based on funding mechanism. Aims pages are chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis; however, priority will be given to faculty members submitting for the upcoming NIH deadline. A waitlist is kept.

If you are selected to have your aims page reviewed, please note that it will be circulated to the reviewers as well as the observers in attendance in your specific room. However, all aims pages will be collected prior to exiting out of respect for confidentiality.

Strategies for Writing the Specific Aims

The Specific Aims document is one of the most important parts of a NIH grants submission – it’s also one of the most difficult to write. This may be the only document read by reviewers and it’s the one generally used to assign study section members. The Aims page needs to be written as a standalone document; and it must answer the following questions: What’s the problem, Why should we care and How will you fix it?

Listen to this Podcast on Specific Aims. Samples of funded and unfunded aims pages are included.
Tips from Johns Hopkins reviewers (PDF).

Consider organizing your aims (but don’t use headers) into:

  1. Introduction – Grab their interest quickly and explain why funding your proposal will help NIH achieve their goals and be a good use of tax payer money. Explain what is known and what is missing that is holding back the field, what knowledge gap will you fill. Conclude with why the missing information is important to the agency.
  2. What, Why, Who paragraph – Clearly state your hypothesis and link it to the objective. Emphasize the product not the process. What will become possible after the research is completed.
  3. Specific Aims Paragraph – Think of your specific aims as headlines, succinct and attention grabbing. Use action verbs (test, analyze, prove) not descriptive verbs (compare, investigate, describe). Ideally, the aims should result in something you can measure. Your application should have only two to three specific aims.
    1. Too many aims will be seen as overambitious.
    2. More aims give the reviewers more content to find fault with.
    3. Do not go into the experimental details of each aim – stick to the big questions you will be answering and leave the details for the grant itself.
    4. Be aware that some reviewers get hung up on wanting to see a hypothesis stated in the specific aims so consider when this might be applicable in your writing.
    5. One aim should not depend upon another aim, they should be independent.
  4. Impact Paragraph – There should be at least one important expected outcome for each of your specific aims. Show how the research will impact the field and why this work must be done now and that you are the best person to do the research. If writing an R01 be sure that it is clear that you are independent as you lay out the rationale for your work on the specific aims page. Consider stating a long-term goal of your work (that is really a concrete and specific goal) to help highlight the significance and provide context.

Training Grants – Integrate your training and career development plan into your specific aims. Some applicants make one of their aims, or sub-aims, training-specific.