Annual and final reports have changed over the years and the purpose of this post is to answer some common questions around NSF project reporting. Reports show how our investments in research are spent. We use them to help show that taxpayer money is being spent on valuable and important work. Program Officers (POs) review each report and request additional information, if needed. In short, reports are a necessary part of the good stewardship of federal funds.
What should I put in my project report?
Follow the Research.gov template. The amount of text is not an indicator of the quality of the report, or of the research productivity. We want a concise description of what happened/was accomplished during the ANNUAL reporting period (i.e. not cumulative for the entire award duration). Remember that products can include many types of things, from books, to journals, conference presentations, websites, dissertations, techniques, software, and data that has been made publicly available. It’s important to include all types of products in the report.
What are the most common problems that cause POs to return a report for revision?
- Not listing people in the Participants/Organizations table who are mentioned in the narrative sections.
- Grammar: lots of typos, incomplete sentences, or paragraphs.
- Not providing details under “Accomplishments” and “Products” (especially for projects that are beyond their first year).
Who should I list in the Participants section? The other collaborators section?
Between the three sections of “Participants/Organizations,” please list everyone who has been engaged in the project within the previous 12 months. This includes students, volunteers and those paid through other sources. If their activities were related to the objectives (Intellectual or Broader Impact) of your award, they “count”. A rule of thumb in deciding which section to report under is that individual “participants” carried out the work of the objectives, “organizational partners” are any organizations beyond your awardee institution that directly enabled the work done by the participants (e.g., the other institutions involved in a multi-institutional collaborative project), and “other collaborators or contacts” would include indirect supporters or beneficiaries of the work (e.g., schools at which your student conducted a demonstration). Please note that “other collaborators and contacts” are entered into a plain narrative text-box; which doesn’t have any specific structure or data requirements.
I have an RCN or workshop award (or any other type award that may involve dozens of participants). Do you really want them all listed as Participants?
Yes. The list of participants provides an increasingly valuable database that NSF can use to quantify the impact of its investments. We prefer Participants be entered one-by-one in the Participants/Organization table.
I have a collaborative award. How should my reports differ from those of my collaborators?
Some overlap in reports is expected. Your report should focus on the components of the project and the personnel unique to your institution. Be explicit about which participants are affiliated with your part of the project or institution and which ones will be credited to one of your collaborators.
Are Annual Reports cumulative? Is the Final Report cumulative?
No and no. Report only on the previous year of work. Except for “Major Goals” and “Impacts”, there should be little or no overlap from one report to the next. The Final Report should be written as an Annual Report – there’s nothing special about it other than it being the last report on a given project.
What is the Project Outcomes Report and why is it important?
The Project Outcomes Report is due at the same time as your final report. The Project Outcome Report summarizes the overall goal(s) and accomplishments of the project upon its completion. Your Outcome Report acts as a permanent record and justification for our investment of taxpayer dollars in your research. It can be viewed by the public and should be written for the public. NSF can’t edit your Outcome Report so please take extra care to be clear and grammatically correct. Please do not cut-and-paste text from your Annual or Final Reports because you wrote them for a very different audience.
What happens if I don’t submit my report on time?
You and any Co-PIs will not be allowed to receive any new funding (e.g., annual increments, supplements, or new grants) or process any other actions (e.g., no cost extensions, PI changes) until the report is submitted and approved. Your annual report is due starting 90 days before your award anniversary. Waiting until late in the 90-day window risks delaying timely release of annual funds and possibly going overdue before we’ve had a chance to review, receive any needed corrections, and approve the report.
Can I submit a proposal if I have an overdue report?
Why am I being asked to submit my report in May when it’s not overdue until August or September (or later)?
Because that’s how our budget cycle works. You need to submit your annual report when NSF requests it because we don’t want you to miss your annual funding increment and lose your money if you turn it in after the fiscal year it is due.
Additional Reporting Resources
A list of guides, tutorials, templates, and demonstrations related to Project Reports is available here. For any additional questions around project reports, please contact your managing Program Officer. Please be aware that if you would like to request a no-cost extension for this award, you must do so before the final report is over-due. NSF cannot grant a no-cost extension when a final report is over-due, or if a final report has been submitted. Once a no-cost extension has been approved, Research.gov will be updated with a new final report due date and you can submit your current year’s report.