Common errors in proposal development and how to avoid them

Below is an example list of errors commonly found in applications and proposals for external funding routed to ORA/ORS for institutional approval that can cause delays in review and submission (or prevent submission altogether).  It is important to follow all applicable guidelines, policies, processes and regulations to ensure that an application can be accepted by the sponsor and considered for funding; therefore, those errors denoted with (**) could prevent submission of the application to the sponsor if not addressed. 

The best way to ensure a smooth submission is to complete the required Intent to Submit at least fifteen (15) business days in advance of the submission date to alert your grant manager and ORA/ORS that a submission is forthcoming.  This way, the appropriate administrative support is aware and can plan / help you navigate the steps to submission as early as possible. 

If you have questions or need help navigating the proposal submission process, please work with your departmental research administrators and/or contact

Errors that will prevent an application from being submitted, include: 

Utilize the myRESEARCHpath feedback survey to share additional ideas or suggestions for avoiding common errors

Common errors by category

A. General 
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 **Not following application guidelines (i.e., FOA): missing elements or key information, not following format or restrictions (e.g., budget limits, eligibility), etc. 

Read the application guidelines carefully and be sure all elements are followed in your application contents. 

Sometimes, a sponsor may make a change to the application guidelines after release, so be sure you are reviewing and following the latest version of the guidelines. 

2 **Duke University is not eligible to submit as applicant organization 

Locate the eligibility requirements (usually found in the application guidelines or on the sponsor’s website) as one of the first orders of business when considering a particular funding opportunity. 

Be sure that you (the investigator) and Duke (the institution) are both eligible before you begin developing a proposal. 

3 **Duke investigator is not eligible to serve as PI 

Locate the eligibility requirements (usually found in the application guidelines or on the sponsor’s website) as one of the first orders of business when considering a particular funding opportunity. 

Be sure that you (the investigator) and Duke (the institution) are both eligible before you begin developing a proposal. 

4 **Duke faculty has a conflict (interest or commitment) that precludes him/her from serving as PI of the project (e.g., Duke faculty serving as the Duke PI and the subawardee PI simultaneously)  Duke Office of Scientific Integrity-Conflict of Interest (DOSI-COI) collaborates with faculty, staff, internal Duke offices, and external organizations to ensure quality review, management, and reporting of financial conflicts of interest related to research at Duke University.  For questions about COI management in the school, please contact
5 Applications not finalized/missing required elements in Grants.Duke necessary for ORA or ORS review Upload the full submission-ready application in Grants.Duke at least five (5) business days prior to the submission date.
6 Attaching items in SPS that are not required or items that should not be submitted (e.g., confidential information) Be aware that data and information in SPS is viewable to others, including other departments (if collaborating on the project) and central research support offices.  Include only information necessary for processing and tracking the application, and never include confidential information.
7 PHS Assignment Request Form used incorrectly, or an assignment request is made in a cover letter (not in the Assignment Request Form as required) This form is optional. Use it only if you wish to 1) communicate a request for a specific IC to receive the application or a specific study section to be assigned, 2) request certain individuals to not review the application (and why), and/or 3) convey scientific Areas of Expertise. There is no requirement that all fields or all sections be completed. You have the flexibility to make a single entry or to provide extensive information using this form.

Including hyperlinked text in prohibited areas of the application (anywhere but Biosketch)

Confirm whether the sponsor has a policy on hyperlinked text and do not include hyperlinks if not allowable.  Certain sponsors (e.g., NIH) view hyperlinked text as a way to circumvent page limits and include additional information in an application or compromising to reviewer anonymity.

The hyperlinked text does not have to be formatted as a hyperlink (e.g., blue, underlined) to be detected as hyperlinked text by the sponsor and the application rejected!
9 Circumventing page limitations by including research strategy elements in other areas of the application (e.g., budget justification, letters of support, etc.) All material required for the review must be contained within the page limits for a particular section of the application.  The sponsor may reject an application if inappropriate material has been placed in a section without page limits or in the appendices.
10 Resubmitting application before summary statement is released

Some sponsors (e.g., NIH) require that the summary statement be released before an application can be resubmitted.

Check that the summary statement has been released before submitting the same application again.
11 Not running an errors/warnings check before routing    
12 Submitting documents to sponsors that require institutional review/approval without seeking review/approval in advance All applications must be reviewed and approved by a Duke University institutional official in the Office of Research Administration (ORA) or the Office of Research Support (ORS) prior to submission. Applications submitted for external funding without first receiving institutional clearance from the appropriate pre-award office will not be accepted at the time of award notification.
13 PDFs not flattened Some sponsors require PDF documents to be flattened before submission.  PDFs that have fillable fields, electronic signatures, text boxes or images inserted, become layered, with each of these elements representing a layer. Flattening a PDF merges these separate elements into one flat layer. Be sure to keep an unflattened version in case of audit!
B. SPS Record
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Missing prime sponsor information if there is a pass-through entity awarding Duke

If the sponsor is not Federal, ask if the funds are originating from a prime sponsor and if so, who.  Enter this information in “Prime Sponsor” data field in SPS. 

2 Missing instructions from the pass-through entity when Duke will be subaward to understand what items (documents, information, etc.) are required of Duke by the pass-through entity (should include the FOA from prime if Duke is a sub)

Be sure all application instructions are known and followed.  Upload all instructions to “Proposal Memo” in SPS to ensure ORA/ORS have all information necessary for institutional review and approval.

3 Lack of contextual information/background (e.g., email threads, documents, explanatory notes) helpful to understand unique or unusual elements Be sure all application information/background relevant to the application and helpful to the review is uploaded to “Proposal Memo” in SPS to ensure ORA/ORS have all information necessary for institutional review and approval.
4 International data points completed inaccurately Complete the “Foreign Activities” section of SPS in entirety and be sure that the information entered is an accurate reflection of the work being conducted internationally.  Important – information should be sought directly from the PI for this section.
C. Budget
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 **Total budget exceeds maximum funds allowable by the sponsor 

Often a sponsor will limit the total amount of funding it will provide on a single award. 

  • Be sure to review the application instructions to locate the maximum funding requests that will be considered. 

Sometimes a sponsor (e.g., NIGMS) will limit the total amount of funding it will award a single investigator. 

  • Search the sponsor’s website and application instructions for any indication of funding limitations.


Sample website with single investigator funding limitations:  



Various F&A issues:

  • **Using the incorrect base (MTDC or TDC) when calculating F&A 
  • Requesting an F&A waiver when it’s not necessary or not requesting an F&A waiver when one is necessary 
  • Manual adjustments to F&A in SPS without explanation 

Be sure to use the correct, applicable base (TDC or MTDC) when calculating F&A on project costs.  

3 **Application references cost share that has not been approved 

It is Duke policy to cost share only when it is required in writing by the external sponsor.  

Cost sharing can take a variety of forms (e.g., reduced F&A cost recovery rates, commitments of faculty effort, use of Duke funds for additional project support) and any reference to cost sharing (direct or indirect) anywhere in the application contents requires approval (in advance) by the appropriate management center: 

  • Office of Research Administration (ORA) and SOM/SON Management Center for proposals submitted by the School of Medicine (SOM) and School of Nursing (SON) 

  • Office of Research Support (ORS) and/or Vice President for Research and/or designee for proposals by University/Campus departments. 

If approved, commitments of mandatory and voluntary committed cost sharing must appear in the proposal budget in SPS. If awarded, cost sharing included in the proposal budget will be loaded into SAP by Treasury Billing Services. 

Note: For Federal research, voluntary committed cost sharing is not expected. It cannot be used as a factor during the merit review of applications or proposals. 


Various budget issues:

  • **Rates or lump sums in other direct costs without sufficient detail, substantiating documentation, or quotes to determine that the service rates are appropriate and/or shared resources not identified properly (no rates listed) 
  • Using “patient care cost” category incorrectly 
  • Using “Patient Reimbursement” or “Participant Stipend” when it should be “Participant Incentives” 
  • Backing into a ceiling budget amount rather than budgeting on actual costs needed to complete the project work

Costs must meet the following general criteria in order to be allowable under Federal awards:  

  1. Must be adequately documented 
  2. Must be necessary for the performance of the Federal award 
  3. Must allowable, allocable, and reasonable 
  4. Must be consistently treated (i.e., all items of cost must be consistent with policies and procedures that apply uniformly to both federally-sponsored projects and other similar costs at Duke) 
  5. Must conform to any limitations or exclusions by the sponsor or other applicable regulation 
  6. Must not be included or used to meet cost sharing or matching requirements of any other federally-financed program in either the current or a prior period. See also § 200.306(b)
  7. Must be incurred during the approved budget period. 

To ensure that only items of cost that are used in direct pursuit of the project aims and that items normally included in Duke’s (or the collaborating organization’s) F&A rate are not also recovered as direct charges, the Uniform Guidance requires: 

  1. Consistency in estimating, accumulating, and reporting costs. 
  2. Consistency in allocating costs incurred for the same purpose. 
  3. Proper treatment of unallowable costs. 
  4. Consistency in the accounting periods used for cost accounting. 

This means that all costs budgeted for a particular project can be substantiated with supporting documentation in sufficient detail to validate the allowability, allocability, reasonableness and consistent treatment of the budgeted items of cost.  

5 **Blended budgets (cost-reimbursable and fixed price) at the same time 

A single project fund code can only include cost-reimbursable or fixed-price terms, not both. 

  1. Cost reimbursable: With a cost-reimburseable award, the sponsor agrees to pay for all allowable project costs incurred by the University up to an agreed upon ceiling/maximum. If the project costs less to complete than the original amount budgeted, the sponsor is obligated to reimburse the University only up to the allowable costs of the project. 
  2. Fixed-price: With a fixed-price award, the sponsor agrees to pay a fixed sum to the University provide a deliverable, service, or specified level of effort without regard for the actual costs incurred by the University to perform the work. If the project is completed with less spending than the contracted amount, the University can usually keep unexpended funds for unrestricted use.  

Because of this, the invoicing terms are different and must be managed separately.   

  1. Cost-reimbursable: usually includes after-the-fact billing of only costs incurred that have posted to the general ledger 
  2. Fixed-price: usually includes pre-payment of a fixed amount, fixed quarterly payments, or payments in fixed amounts based on schedules such as milestones, tasks, or deliverables.  With a fixed-price award, the University assumes the risk of over spending. 
6 Employee vs. Independent Contractor designation is incorrect or checklist not completed 

The employee vs. independent contractor determination is central to the question of how an individual should be paid for services provided to Duke. 

Duke relies on the PI and unit grant manager to develop a description of the work to be performed, and using the Duke Employee vs. Independent Contractor Determination Matrix, to complete the Duke Independent Contractor Checklist in order to assess the appropriate classification.  

The Duke Independent Contractor Checklist is based on the IRS Common Law Test and must be completed before budgeting to determine the appropriate associated costs (fringe benefits, F&A, etc.): 

  1. For the employee, Duke is required to withhold income tax, Social Security, and Medicare from wages paid. 
  2. For the independent contractor, Duke does not withhold taxes, but must have an agreement in place between Duke and independent contractor. 
7 Subrecipient vs. Vendor designation is incorrect or checklist not completed  A key step in compliant subrecipient monitoring under the Uniform Guidance is determining whether an external collaborating entity receiving funds from Duke should be classified as a subrecipient or vendor. The determination is based primarily on the type of work proposed, not solely on the type of entity (e.g. university, business entity, nonprofit entity).  

The PI and unit grant manager must determine the nature of the relationship (subrecipient vs vendor) with the external collaborating entity at the time of the proposal. The process by which the PI and unit grant manager makes the determination must be consistent and auditable, and the unit must retain documentation for each decision. The process and documentation must include references to the characteristics of subrecipient and contractor relationships as defined in Uniform Guidance § 200.331 Subrecipient and contractor determinations and listed on the Duke Subrecipient / Contractor (Vendor) Determination Checklist. The use of this checklist is a required unit-level process. 

Please note that when making the determination, the nature of the relationship is more important than the nature of the agreement. 

8 Minimum effort requirement not met (e.g., NIH K mechanisms, NCI PI minimum effort, etc.) 

It is expected that most Federally-funded research programs should have some level of committed faculty effort, paid or unpaid by the sponsor. This effort can be provided at any time within the fiscal year (summer months, academic year, or both).  

All effort budgeted on a sponsored project must be reasonable, measurable, and reflective of the university time necessary to complete the project. 

Some sponsors (e.g., National Cancer Institute) and certain grant programs (e.g., NIH K mechanism) have minimum effort requirements that must be met as a condition of the award. 

In all cases, budgeted effort becomes a commitment of the award and must be expended in accordance with the awarded budget (or any adjustments approved by the sponsor, if applicable). 

For the School of Medicine, a minimum of 1% effort for the PI must be reflected at the time of proposal submission and sustained throughout the project period (if award). Actual effort expended by the PI must be charged directly to the study as incurred, and ideally updated on a monthly basis. For industry sponsored clinical research studies, Duke will allow PI effort to be aggregated for clinical research studies on the Other Support page as long as the budgeted and actual effort is less than 5% on each study.  

Remember to evaluate Total Professional Effort (TPE) and other outside commitments when determining whether the investigator has the appropriate level of effort available to meet any sponsor minimum effort requirement.  

  • If it is necessary to adjust the investigator’s TPE to ensure there is appropriate protected Duke effort for the sponsored project(s), please complete the Anticipated IBS/TPE Change Request Form to secure Dean’s Office approval (requires NetID login)

D. Budget Justification 
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Lacking sufficient detail; no breakdown 

A budget justification is a narrative description of each line item of cost and “justifies” the cost relative to the work proposed.  

A complete and realistic budget justification demonstrates that your project is well conceived and may minimize the chances that the sponsor will indiscriminately reduce or eliminate budget categories. Sponsors have a good idea of what a project should cost, and generally know when a project is over or under budgeted. 

The budget justification should focus on how each item of cost is required to achieve the aims of the project and how the estimated costs in the budget were calculated.  

The budget justification must: 

  • Follow funding agency guidelines 
  • Explain why each cost is necessary to accomplish the proposed research 
  • Be organized in the order of the detailed budget page 
  • Make it clear that all budget requests are reasonable and consistent with sponsor and Duke policies. 

When developing the budget justification, consider the following: 

  • Does the budget justification follow the same order as the budget? 
  • Does the budget justification give sufficient detail to explain the costs included in the budget? 
  • Does the budget justification include only items allowable, reasonable & allocable? 
  • Is the budget justification easy to read (short paragraphs, headings for different budget categories, etc.)? 
  • Is the budget justification concise? (e.g., no more than 5 pages for NSF) 
  • Do the figures in the budget justification match those in the budget?
2 Adding collaborating subawardee’s full budget justification in Duke’s budget justification 

Include only the description of the costs to be expended at Duke in Duke’s budget justification.   

If collaborating with another entity as a subawardee, the subawardee organization should provide a budget justification describing their project costs as part of their subaward package to Duke.

3 Including or not recognizing/noticing instances of voluntary cost sharing (in justification, or elsewhere) 

It is University policy to cost share only when it is required in writing by the external sponsor.  

Cost sharing can take a variety of forms, for example: 

  • Reduced F&A cost recovery rates 
  • Commitments of faculty effort not direct-charged to the sponsor 
  • Use of University funds for additional project support 

Regardless of sponsor or circumstances, any request to deviate from the University’s cost share policy require prior administrative review and approval.  

Exceptions to inclusion of cost sharing on a sponsored program application must be approved by either: 

  • SOM/SON Management Center for proposals submitted by the School of Medicine (SOM) and School of Nursing (SON), 
  • Office of Research Support and/or Vice President for Research and/or designee for proposals by University/Campus departments. 

Any decision to cost share should reflect the University’s overall priorities within the functions of research and education. 

Requests for cost sharing must be made - and the commitments must be documented - at the time of proposal submission.  

It is of special note that any quantifiable financial commitments included in any part of the proposal, not solely in the budget and/or justification, will be considered by the sponsor to be proposed cost sharing and will become a condition of the award; therefore, special care must be taken to not inadvertently commit to cost sharing in proposal documents. 

E. Statement of Work (SOW)
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Not sufficient detail to know what work Duke is performing (E.g. “Duke will perform Specific Aim 3”)

Be sure that the information provided about the work that the Duke project team will perform is detailed and well-documented.  This is important if there are ever any questions about whether or not the work was performed that could affect Duke invoices being paid by the sponsor.

2 SOW is an overall/combined SOW (not just what work Duke is performing)

Be sure that the information provided about the work that the Duke project team will perform is detailed and well-documented, and not combined with the work of any other collaborator.  This is important if there are ever any questions about whether or not the work was performed that could affect Duke invoices being paid by the sponsor.

3 Reference to activities that require institutional approval that do not have institutional approval (e.g., F&A waiver, cost share, use of offsite facilities or resources, etc.) Any costs or activities that require prior institutional review/approval must be sought in advance.  The PI and unit grants administrators should work through their ORA / ORS representative to secure the appropriate approvals.
4 SOW describes work that cannot be carried out by Duke Any activities that require prior institutional review/approval must be sought in advance.  The PI and unit grants administrators should work through their ORA / ORS representative to secure the appropriate approvals.  Complete the Intent to Submit form for proposal planning support and to engage a myRESEARCHnavigator to understand if your proposal plan requires prior institutional review/approval.
F. Biosketch
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Wrong format is used

Keep the biosketch updated to the latest format and require all collaborators to use the latest format. 

Try SciENcv to help you develop your biosketch and automatically format it according to NIH or NSF requirements.  For NIH, the SciENcv formatting reflects removal of Section D per NOT-OD-21-073 first guide notice.


2 Missing appointments (e.g., PDC or VA when either is included in TPE or other appointments external to Duke University)

List in reverse chronological order all current positions and scientific appointments both domestic and foreign, including affiliations with foreign entities or governments. This includes titled academic, professional, or institutional appointments whether or not remuneration is received, and whether full-time, part-time, or voluntary (including adjunct, visiting, or honorary).

3 Referring to PDC appointment in biosketch The PDC ended operations in July 2023 and should no longer be referenced on biosketches or elsewhere in applications.  NIH biosketch instructions state to list all current positions and scientific appointments.
G. Resources/Facilities 
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources

Various Resources/Facilities issues: 

  • Does not follow sponsor guidelines 
  • Too long 
  • Describes the history of Duke 
  • Includes all resources/facilities in the unit rather than what is necessary for/relevant to the specific project 

Describe how the scientific environment in which the research will be done contributes to the probability of success (e.g., institutional support, physical resources, and intellectual rapport).  

In describing the scientific environment in which the work will be done, discuss ways in which the proposed studies will benefit from unique features of the scientific environment or from unique subject populations or how studies will employ useful collaborative arrangements. 

If there are multiple performance sites, describe the resources available at each site. 

Describe any special facilities used for working with biohazards and any other potentially dangerous substances. Note: Information about select agents must be described in the Research Plan, Select Agent Research. 

Only the facilities to be used and other resources that are directly applicable to the proposed work should be included unless otherwise noted in the sponsor guidelines.   

Use of URLs or hyperlinks in this section is not allowed unless specified otherwise in the sponsor guidelines! 

2 Describing facilities of another organization when there is no evidence in the application that another organization is part of the project (i.e. the Durham VA)  Include only the facilities to be used and other resources that are directly applicable to the proposed work unless otherwise noted in the sponsor guidelines.   
H. Human Subjects/Animals
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Protocol information incomplete 

All projects proposing human subjects research, either exempt or non-exempt, including those proposing clinical trials, must complete the PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form as part of their grant application or contract proposal. 

2 Not understanding what is considered human subjects research

Understand what is considered human subjects research.   


According to 45 CFR 46, a human subject is "a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research: 

  • Obtains information or biospecimens through intervention or interaction with the individual, and uses, studies, or analyzes the information or biospecimens; or 
  • Obtains, uses, studies, analyzes, or generates identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens."
3 Not including PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information Form when required 

The PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form is used to collect information on human subjects research, clinical research, and/or clinical trials, including study population characteristics, protection and monitoring plans, and a protocol synopsis. 

This form accommodates the full spectrum of all types of clinical trials, including, but not limited to, behavioral, exploratory/development, mechanistic, pilot/feasibility, early phase, efficacy, effectiveness, group-randomized, and others. 

Read all the instructions in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) before completing this form to ensure your application meets all IC-specific criteria. "Section II. Award Information" of the FOA will indicate whether clinical trials are or are not allowed and whether clinical trial research experience is or is not allowed.  

The designation of your FOA will determine how to use these instructions, and subsequently, how to fill out this form. 

The PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form, together with the rest of your application, should include sufficient information for the evaluation of the project, independent of any other documents (e.g., previous application). Be specific, describe each study clearly, and avoid redundancies. Be especially careful to avoid redundancies with your research strategy. 

When is the PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form required? 

The designation of your FOA will determine how to use these instructions, and subsequently, when and how to complete this form. 

All applicants must use the PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form regardless of your answer to the question "Are human subjects involved?" on the G.220 - R&R Other Project Information Form

4 Inconsistent data (research is considered human subjects but “human subjects” is marked no, or vice versa)  Be sure that all information, data (including SPS and Grants.Duke data fields), forms and project descriptions are aligned and consistently completed so that it is clear whether or not the project includes human subjects. 
I. Cover Letters and Letters of Support 
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources

Various Cover Letter issues:

  • Including inappropriate information (e.g., cost sharing) 
  • Missing required information 
  • Making requests that are not appropriate in a cover letter 
  • Not conforming to applicable page limitations 

Does your application require a cover letter?  If so, be sure you are following the sponsor’s instructions for the contents of the cover letter and do not repeat information included in the PHS Assignment Request Form (if proposing to NIH). 

When a Cover Letter is REQUIRED 

For NIH specifically, a cover letter is REQUIRED for: 

  • Resubmissions 
  • Projects that require specific NIH Institute/Center approval to submit 
  • Applications requesting $500,000 or more in direct costs for any year 
  • Conference Grants (R13 or U13) 
  • Investigator-initiated clinical trial planning and implementation awards 
  • Projects that will generate of data per the NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy 
  • Corrected applications (include a complete cover letter if you did not pass validations and submitted a corrected application) 
  • Late applications (review NIH guidance on Late Applications
  • Continuous submission 
  • Indicate that you are a member of an NIH study section qualified to submit at a nonstandard time.  
  • Submitting Videos (review NIH guidance for Videos Submitted as NIH Application Materials)  
  • The cover letter submitted with the application must include information about the intent to submit a video; if this is not done, a video will not be accepted. 

When a Cover Letter is OPTIONAL 

You may choose to include a cover letter to: 

  • Note special issues – for example: involvement of human subjects, select agents, or other areas with special requirements 
  • Describe a subaward that will be active for only some of the years of the project period. 

For NIH specifically, do NOT include a cover letter for the sole purpose of communicating specific awarding component assignments or study section review preferences.  Instead, use the PHS Assignment Request Form. 

Note that only the scientific review officer sees your cover letter, not the reviewers or program officers.  



2 Letters of Support for consultants acting in an individual capacity using institutional resources

For consultants acting in their own capacity who are employed by a university or company, no resources of that entity should be used, committed or implied in letters of support or other documents in an application without that entity’s approval.  Resources may include:

  • Institutional letterhead
  • Facilities
  • Equipment
  • In-kind contributions that aren’t owned by the individual (e.g. data, services, funding, entity staff effort, etc.)
J. Other
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources
1 Not listing performance sites or recognizing what project activities rise to the level of being a performance site 

Performance Sites are locations where investigators will perform the project work.  

Be sure to include Duke University as the primary location, and any other non-Duke location if any portion of the project work will take place there – particularly if there will be human and/or animal subjects work conducted at the site. 

2 Not recognizing and appropriately justifying foreign components / collaborations described in the abstract or research plan

Most Federal sponsors (particularly NIH, NSF, and DOD) require applicants to determine whether project activities include a foreign component, defined as the existence of any “significant scientific element or segment of a project” outside of the United States, including: 

  • Performance of work by a researcher or recipient in a foreign location, whether or not grant funds are expended and/or 
  • Performance of work by a researcher in a foreign location employed or paid for by a foreign organization, whether or not NIH grant funds are expended. 

First, identify whether a portion of a project will be conducted outside of the U.S. before determining whether such activities are considered significant. Significance should be measured by the investigator within the context of the project as a whole.  

Examples of a foreign component include: 

  • Collaborations with investigators at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship 
  • The use of facilities or instrumentation at a foreign site 
  • The receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity. 

Foreign components must be disclosed in a proposal as a Foreign Justification attached to the R&R Other Project Information Form


3 Not understanding or budgeting resources necessary to conduct research internationally 

Budget development for research that includes an international component will require more time to prepare and include costs that are not typically included in research conducted domestically. 

Review the sponsor guidelines prior to beginning the budget development process to identify the types of costs that might be allowable for inclusion in the project budget.  Work with your unit grant manager and the International Research Support Team to ensure you have considered all costs necessary to conduct research internationally. 


K. Specific to NIH RPPR submissions 

Coming soon!

L. Specific to DOD submissions  
  Error How to Avoid Relevant Resources


FOA sometimes requires Excel Spreadsheets which produce errors when submitting through grants.duke

Grants.duke may indicate that we can use it but we can’t if the FOA requires Excel Spreadsheets. The proposal must be submitted through Workspace in


Attachments are not uploaded into the correct slots

The FOAs often specify which slots the attachments must me in. To build up to the correct numbered slot, you will have to enter blank pdfs.

  • The checklist in the FOA should specify which slot each document should be in


Incorrect information in the Agency ID field

Often DoD will repurpose this field and require the research area the proposal should be reviewed under to be entered.



**Missing Small Business Subcontracting Plans for Duke and for subawardees

Know the dollar threshold and get started early.


The F&A is calculated at the wrong rate

The DoD contracting rate should be used.



Incorrect filenames are used

The FOA may require that files be uploaded with specified filenames. These must be and exact match.


M. Specific to NSF submissions (Fastlane/
  Error How to avoid Relevant Resources


Incomplete Cover Page

Be sure to check “Yes” to human subjects and “Yes” to international when appropriate.


Bio Sketch completed incorrectly

There should only be 5 synergistic activities and these should be unique activities. (Being the editor or reviewer for 3 journals counts as one activity)


Late account set up.

Particularly for new faculty, it is important to make sure they have requested/registered for an account and had it approved by a Duke AOR. Any subcontracting institutions must also have accounts.


Facilities & Other Resources not completed correctly

Make sure that any key personnel who do not have compensated effort in Section A of the budget are included in the F&OR and that their effort is described appropriately.


Current & Pending not completed correctly

The proposal being submitted should be included as Pending and the titles should match.


Letters of Collaboration are not formatted correctly

Generally, the FOA will specify the exact language to use. Letters of support are not allowed and should never be included in Supplementary Documents unless specified.


Not following special requirements in the FOA

The FOA may require the addition of key words in the Project Summary or specifically titled sections in the Project Description.


The Project Summary is incomplete

The Project Summary include a description of intellectual merit and a statement on broader impacts. It is recommended that these specific phrases appear in Bold in the one-page Project Summary.


Title requirements are not met

Often the FOA will require specific prefixes to the title.


No access

The PI must allow the pre-award offices access to the complete proposal by the 5-day deadline.


Proposal entered into the wrong system

NSF is accepting proposals through both Fastlane and Some FOAs will specify which system to use others may not.


Project Description not complete

Be sure to include a description of Prior NSF support. If the PI has not had NSF grants before, then it is recommended that such a statement be included.


SPS doesn’t match the proposal in Fastlane/

Other than minor rounding errors the budget loaded into the .gov systems should match the budget in SPS.


Insufficient budget justification

If the PI or Co-PIs are requesting more than 2/9ths of support, then this needs to be sufficiently justified.


PI and Co-PIs with zero effort appear in Section A of the budget

Delete them. Listing them implies cost sharing which is not allowed. They should appear in the Facilities and Other Resources section of the proposal and have their contributions appropriately described.