NSF Common Causes for Return Without Review

Below are some common conditions cited by NSF as reasons to return proposals without review. Items from the most recent GPG have been highlighted as important. While some these may not be an issue depending on the NSF reviewer, many have been noted as reasons for return without review in recent months. We strongly suggest careful review of each of these items to ensure your proposal gets a proper review based on scientific merit.

Proposal Duplication, Similarity or Not Appropriate or Submitted Timely
  • Is a duplicate of, or substantially similar to, one already under consideration by NSF from the same PI/co-PI’s
  • Was previously reviewed and has not been substantially revised
  • Is inappropriate for funding by the NSF
  • Is submitted with insufficient lead-time before activity is scheduled to begin
  • Is a full proposal that was submitted by a proposer that has received a “not invited” response to the submission of a preliminary proposal
  • Is not responsive to the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) or program announcement/solicitation
  • Does not meet the announced proposal deadline date – either submitting after the deadline or submitting too early
Project Summary
  • Must be typed directly into Fastlane text boxes unless special characters are included
  • Be careful when copying and pasting – watch for special characters being converted to question marks or other characters
  • Must be 4,600 characters or less
  • If uploaded as a pdf, must include separately labeled sections for Overview, Intellectual Merit, and Broader Impacts
  • Includes keywords, if required by the solicitation
Project Description
  • Must include a section specifically titled “Broader Impacts of the Proposed Work”
  • Must include one recent (last 5 years) most closely related NSF prior support. This is required for each PI and co-PI (limited to 5 pages of the project description) and MUST include:
    • NSF award number o Funding amount
    • Time period
    • Title
    • Results of the completed work in two separate sections (with headings) for Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts
    • Publications/products and their availability – these can be cited here and included in the References document
    • If renewal, relation of the completed work to the proposed work
  • Must have reference title
  • Must not have any “et al.” instances - Allowed only in narrative for in-line citations
  • Include names of all authors in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication
  • If the document is available electronically, the website address also should be identified
  • PI’s are cautioned to properly reference and quote published work (figures, tables, and text)
  • There is no limit on the size of the reference section
  • Cannot contain parenthetical information, footnotes or figures. This section must contain citations only
  • Do not include personal information (such as personal email, phone or website)
  • Professional Preparation section:
    • Include location for each institution
  • Products and Synergistic Activities sections:
    • Include a complete list of all authors of each publication (Do not use et al., use full names)
    • Include publication title
    • Do not exceed the allowable number of publications and/or synergistic activities (note: do not combine multiple synergistic activities to appear as one)
  • Collaborators & Other Affiliations section must have:
    • first and last names (in alphabetical order) and affiliations of:
      • collaborators or co-authors (within last 4 years) and co-editors within last 2 years (include total # from an area of relevance to the proposal)
      • graduate advisors (include total #)
      • postdoctoral sponsors (include total #)
      • thesis advising and postgraduate-scholar sponsor
        • thesis advising – list all students ever advised
        • postgraduate-scholar sponsor – list individuals from last 5 years
      • list the total number of graduate students advised and postdoctoral scholars sponsored (all prior and current and include in this number students on whose committee you served but were not their advisor)
  • Do not include additional information other than the five required sections, such as awards and honors; provide the required information in the order and format specified in the GPG
Current & Pending
  • Pre-Award will draft these based in the information in our systems
  • Current and Pending Support section must include incomplete – required for each PI, co-PI, and senior project personnel
  • Include the project you are applying for currently as ‘pending.’ with all appropriate fields completed per the NSF format
  • List all current project support regardless of source (Federal, State, local or foreign government, public or private foundations, industrial or other)
  • Include all project activities requiring a portion of time of the PI, co-Pi or senior project personnel even if they receive no salary support from the activity (include no. of person months devoted to the project)
Budget Justification
  • This section is limited to three pages per institution
  • Detail the rates of pay by individual for senior personnel, postdoctoral associates, and other professionals (Pre-Award will add these)
Letters of Commitment
  • Letter of Commitment can only confirm a collaboration and not general support;
  • Additional remarks about PI/co-PI’s past accomplishments or planned undertakings may not be included. (Program managers can request that you delete a letter even after you have submitted your application.)
  • Letters of support are not accepted by NSF, unless specifically requested in a program solicitation
  • Any collaboration letter that is not required by the solicitation be formatted as indicated per the GPG
Font Sizes
  • Do not use small font size and margins. See GPG for allowed size/margins
Cost Share
  • Cost share, unless required by the solicitation, is prohibited by NSF

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