October 11, 2007

Optimizing Files for Electronic Submission

When preparing a proposal to submit to Grants.gov or other electronic submission systems, please take the time to make sure files aren't larger than they need to be. Grants.gov does not currently have a limit set for file size. However, large files can fill up email quotas, take more time to upload, and slow down computer performance. These problems are compounded near deadlines when staff are working with multiple proposals at the same time.

For an example of what can go wrong, the Sponsored Projects Office had a recent Grants.gov experience in which a SPO staff member was trying to replace a budget on a PureEdge file that was very large because of the number of scanned PDF attachments. Trying to work with this large file caused the SPO computer to hang, which resulted in wiping out all the information in the PureEdge file. Fortunately, SPO had a backup copy of the file. SPO technical staff worked to reduce the size of this file by optimizing the PDF attachments, then the SPO research administrator was able to upload the revised file in time to meet the Grants.gov deadline that afternoon.

For an example of what is considered large, the National Institutes of Health expects an average R01 application to be in the six to 10 megabyte (MB) range with 99 percent of applications falling under 40 MB. NIH provides guidance on file size in the NIH Frequently Asked Questions on electronic submission. One basic tip from NIH is to avoid scanning text documents to produce PDFs. Instead, NIH recommends producing the documents electronically using text or word-processing software and then converting documents to PDF, and making scanned documents the exception rather than the rule when preparing an application.

What You Can Do
• Start Early and Ask for Help

Please start working on your application early, especially if you are using Grants.gov for the first time. If you are new to Grants.gov, preparing applications for electronic submission, or need help with the process, contact SPO staff early.

• Scanning
When scanning documents is necessary, for example when collaboration letters need to be included with the proposal, set the scanner at 150 dpi (dots per inch) instead of a higher resolution. In some cases, an even lower resolution, such as 72 dpi, might work without sacrificing readability.

• Images
When preparing images to include in a PDF, reduce the size or resolution in an imaging editing program and use compression such as JPEG to save images. Please note that when experimenting with resolution, make sure the results are suitable before making changes that can't be undone.

• Optimizing PDFs
After creating a PDF, use Acrobat or other software to optimize the file and reduce the file size. Check the help menu or user manual to determine the best method for file reduction. For example, in Acrobat 8 Professional, there are several ways to optimize files: Document -> Reduce File Size, Document -> Optimize Scanned PDF, Save As, and PDF Optimizer. Acrobat 7 also provides tools to reduce PDF file size, as does Acrobat 6.

Computer System Requirements
If you are still having trouble working with files even when reducing size whenever possible, you might need a more powerful computer. Grants.gov provides the minimum requirements for PureEdge, but depending on the file types and applications you work with to create the final PureEdge file, this configuration may be inadequate. Grants.gov states that for PureEdge Viewer to function properly, your computer must meet the following system requirements: Windows 98, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, XP; 500 MHz processor; 128 MB of RAM; 40 MB disk space; Web browser: Internet Explorer 5.01 or higher, Netscape Communicator 4.5 - 4.8, Netscape 6.1, 6.2, or 7. SPO desktop machines have a 2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, and an 80-160 GB disk.

IBM has provided Special Edition Mac Viewers for PPC and Intel running Macintosh OS 10.4 or higher that are available for download. If that solution does not work and if you do not have a Windows operating system, you will need to use a Windows Emulation program. SPO provides more information on using Grants.gov with a Macintosh computer.