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Forms FAQ

The following questions have been compiled from phone calls, emails, and office visits. Most of them started with the same sentence, "It doesn't work." If you find yourself saying the same thing, take a moment to look over this page; it's possible others have had the same problem or question. If you have a question that has not been addressed here, contact Michael Green via email at, or by phone at 1-2749.

Why can't I enter text in the totals fields on the NIH (Word) budget pages?
Aka why don't the calculations fields in my document work?

These fields are calculated for you when you send the form to print. In order for the fields to calculate, you must set your print options accordingly. To do this:

From the Toolbar, select Tools > Options
Select the Print tab.
In the Printing Options area, select Update Fields.

How can I modify the forms?

Warning: altering form elements can cause ripples throughout the format. With internal forms such as the OSR-1, a minor difference from the standard will not affect its acceptance. The National Institutes of Health are very particular about the layout of their forms. Modify NIH forms at your own risk

Word 6.0 and RTF forms: To modify these forms:

From the Toolbar, select Tools > Unprotect Document
Make changes to the document
From the Toolbar, select Tools > Protect Document
From the pop-up menu, choose Forms

PDF forms: You cannot modify PDF forms with the free Acrobat Reader. If you have the full Acrobat version, however, you can modify any element of the form using the variety of editing tools available in the program. See the warning above.

Excel forms: You can modify any elements of the Excel forms on this site using the standard editing features of the program. See the warning above.

I am using a Mac. Which format should I use?

This is a tricky issue.

If you have Microsoft Word on your computer, you can try the Word 6.0 forms. Newer Macs are equipt with great translation software that will correctly interperet every data element of a Word for PC document.

RTF (rich text format) forms are another option. They are theoretically readable by Microsoft Word on any platform and can also be read by later versions of WordPerfect.

However, if you want trouble-free, perfectly formatted forms on your Mac, choose PDF (portable document format). PDF is usable by any computer and any platform. All you need is the free Acrobat Reader to use these forms (although you can extend the form's functionality with the full version of Adobe Acrobat.) Before choosing this option, check out the Benefits and Drawbacks of PDF. (No kidding. Really read it.)

I am using WordPerfect. Which format should I use?

Newer versions of WordPerfect may be able to translate the Word 6.0 and RTF forms on this site. Then again, they may not. Not very helpful, is it? The fact is, I have seen one PC WordPerfect correctly open a Word 6.0 form, and another (same version) throw in the towell.

Your other option is PDF (portable document format). PDF forms are usable on any platform. Just download a copy of the free Acrobat Reader or purchase Adobe Acrobat. But before you do, check out the Benefits and Drawbacks of PDF.

I am using Lotus. Which format should I use?

There are only a few forms on this site designed for Excel, and each of those forms has several alternatives. Try the Word 6.0 or RTF (rich text format)eqivalent if you wish to use a word processor to complete your forms, or try the PDF (portable document format) files if you have Adobe Acrobat or the free Acrobat Reader. Be sure to read the Benefits and Drawbacks of PDF before choosing the PDF option.

I receive the following message when trying to print a form: "the margins are set outside the printable area of the page." What should I do?

Ah, a Mac user. I don't know why Apple printers place such tight restrictions on margin size, but they do. To alter your Word 6.0 form to fit the printable margins, do the following:

1) Click unprotect from the Tools menu.
2) Click page setup in the file menu.
3) In the pop-up menu, set the document scale to 97%
4) Click OK.
5) Reopen the page setup menu (I know this sounds strange, but if you don't close the menu between changes, there can be problems)
6) In the pop-up menu, select the margins button.
7) In the margins menu, set the top and bottom margins to .46 inches. Set the left margin to .55 inches. Set the right margin to .46 inches. Click OK.
8) Go back to tools and click protect. In the pop-up menu, select the forms readio button and click OK.

But to save yourself the hassle, try using the PDF alternatives. PDF files automatically reduce in size to fit printable margins. There are drawbacks to PDF, however, so be sure to read the Benefits and Drawbacks of PDF before choosing the PDF option.

What are the benefits of using PDF files? What are the drawbacks?

PDF (portable document format) was created by Adobe to solve the problems that arise when transporting documents between systems.


  • Anyone, anywhere can open a PDF file. All you need is the free Acrobat Reader.
  • PDF files always display exactly as created, regardless of fonts, software, and operating systems.
  • PDF files always print correctly on any printing device.
  • Acrobat's form controls ensure uncompromised layout without character limitations.


  • You can not save changes to forms using the free Acrobat Reader. This includes entries made in form fields.
  • Non-postscript printers may have problems spooling a PDF form. Check here for more help.

Obvioulsy the big issue here is the ability to save your work. The free Reader doesn't allow you to do it. So what do you do? Buy Adobe Acrobat. The program is very flexible, user friendly, and allows you to save your form entries. Not only that, but you will be able to create your own PDF documents with it. Adobe Acrobat can be purchased directly from Adobe, or you can pick it up through TRC, Technology Resource Center at an academic discount rate.

I don't like the font used in the form. How can I change it?

Word 6.0 and RTF forms:

From the Toolbar, select Tools > Unprotect Document
select grey-shaded form field.
change font on the toolbar or through Format>Font
From the Toolbar, select Tools > Protect Document
From the pop-up menu, choose Forms

Warning: NIH has very specific font requirements and deviation from these requirement can cause your proposal to be disqualified from consideration. The following is excepted from the PHS398 instructions.

Adherence to type size and line spacing requirements is necessary for several reasons. No applicants should have the advantage, by using small type, of providing more text in their applications. Small type may also make it difficult for reviewers to read the application.

The application must be clear, readily legible, and conform to the following three requirements: 1) The height of the letters must not be smaller than 10 point; 2) Type density must be no more than 15 characters per inch (cpi). For proportional spacing, the average for any representative section of text must not exceed 15 cpi; 3) No more than 6 lines of type must be within a vertical inch. Type requirements should be checked using a standard device for measuring type size, rather than relying on the font selected for a particular word processing/printer combination. Figures, charts, tables, figure legends, and footnotes may be smaller in size but must be readily legible. The type size used throughout the application must conform to all three requirements.

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