Skip to content

Tips for writing an effective NIH biosketch

The biographical sketch (biosketch) is an essential component of any National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application.

It gives you an opportunity to both sell your project to peer reviewers – and to make a compelling argument for why you are uniquely qualified to contribute to the proposed research.

Research Development offers its “Top 5” tips for writing an effective NIH biosketch:

  1. Read the NIH instructions. NIH biosketches must conform to a specific format. Refer to the NIH instructions, being careful to select fellowship or non-fellowship instructions, as needed. Small mistakes, such as including figures/tables/graphics or a URL hyperlink that is not to a Federal Government website (a .gov suffix), can cause a proposal to be rejected. By following the instructions, you will produce a biosketch that meets all NIH requirements.
  2. Use the first person (e.g. I, me, my, we) for the personal statement. Within the personal statement, you are speaking directly to reviewers about your background and experience – and that of your team of collaborators and/or mentors – so personalize this section by using first person.
  3. Articulate how your qualifications and past performance align with your role on the proposed project. The personal statement is an excellent space to frame the research problem that lies at the heart of the proposal and to tell reviewers how the project will make meaningful contributions to the field. But it also gives you space to market yourself. Utilize the personal statement to tell reviewers how your training and academic accomplishments make you the right person at the right time to fill your specific role on the team.
  4. In Section A. if you elect to highlight ongoing and completed projects from the last 3 years, be strategic and cite projects that are most relevant to the project at hand. Include a sentence or two that explains to reviewers why you chose to highlight those specific projects. Perhaps those projects gave you the opportunity to develop research methods, determine feasibility, generate preliminary data, or otherwise leverage a unique skill set that will benefit the proposed project.
  5. In Section C. Contributions to Science, consider what story you want to tell your reviewers. There is no singular “right way” to organize this section of a biosketch, but there are approaches that work well. Consider organizing your contributions by career phase – e.g. graduate research, postdoctoral scholarship, faculty research – using a narrative style to engage readers in your journey as an investigator. Alternatively, a descriptive writing style can be used to group contributions by scientific foci, methods, or public health relevance. Whatever approach you choose, be selective about the contributions – and citations listed. Most importantly, keep in mind that while the NIH instructions allow for a biosketch to include up to five (5) contributions, reviewers tend to base their expectations on the individual’s seniority. Focus the contributions on relevant accomplishments and expertise – and choose quality over quantity.

Get feedback on your biosketch
Research Development’s biosketch reviews focus on format, style, clarity and effective use of language. To request a review of your NIH biosketch – or for further questions, email

Are you seeking even more helpful biosketch tips?

Visit our website

“Writing a Winning NIH Biosketch” (webinar recording)
In Spring 2022, Hanover Research delivered a webinar to the College of Medicine entitled “Writing a Winning NIH Biosketch.” This webinar is a wonderful primer on the non-fellowship version of the NIH biosketch.

Watch a recording (PSU credentials required)

If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email the Penn State College of Medicine web department.