This NIH NOT-OD-20-147 notice serves to remind the applicant community about existing guidance that restricts use of hypertext (e.g., hyperlinks and URLs) in NIH applications. Increasing use of unallowable hypertext in NIH grant applications raises multiple concerns, including:
Reviewer Confidentiality: The wide availability and sophistication of web-based tracking systems may allow applicants to identify reviewers who access web sites through unallowable hypertext in an application.
“Overstuffing”: All material required for the review must be contained within the page limits of the application. Linking out to additional information, even if it is framed by the applicant as “optional” or “supplemental”, provides additional material to reviewers that may exceed the content limitations of the application, particularly in page-limited sections such as the Research Strategy. This is a matter of fairness, since all applicants should submit the same amounts and types of information to be considered as part of initial peer review.
Review Consistency: If some reviewers consider information provided by unallowable hypertext and others do not, the quality of review can be negatively impacted by inconsistency among the reviewers.
Malware: Once a reviewer clicks on a link in an application that is not on an NIH website, the possibility exists for malware or other breaches to occur on the reviewer’s computer and/or system.
There is no change in the NIH policy on the use of hyperlinks. As a reminder, that policy as articulated in the NIH SF424 (R&R) Application Guide reads:
- Hyperlinks and URLs are only allowed when specifically noted in funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and form field instructions. The use of hyperlinks is typically limited to citing relevant publications in biosketches and publication lists. It is highly unusual for a FOA to allow links in Specific Aims, Research Strategy and other page-limited attachments.
- Hyperlinks and URLs may not be used to provide information necessary to application review.
- Reviewers are instructed against viewing linked sites and are cautioned that they should not directly access a website (unless the link to the site was specifically requested in application instructions) as it could compromise their anonymity and allow for malware to be downloaded onto their computers.
- When allowed, you must hyperlink the actual URL text so it appears on the page rather than hiding the URL behind a specific word or phrase.Example:
- NIH (http://www.nih.gov/)
Applications that do not follow these instructions, and include unallowable hyperlinks, may be withdrawn from review and funding consideration.