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Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP)


Quote Marks Cause Problems in Electronic Application Processing (NIH)

Posted on February 26, 2010 at 11:27am

Except from the NIH eRA eSubmission Items of Interest (2/25/10)

Straight Quotes are the Smart Choice in Electronic Applications

Have you ever noticed that when you enclose text in quotation marks in a simple text editor (e.g., Notepad) the quotation marks appear straight up and down and when you type the same string in a more sophisticated word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word or OpenOffice) the quotation marks are curled towards the text between them? Those curled quotation marks, sometimes referred to as “smart quotes,” cause problems with electronic application processing.

Grants.gov FAQs warns applicants against using special characters or cutting and pasting from word processors that may have proprietary fonts and/or special characters (application submission FAQs).

Depending on the fields that contain the “smart quotes” you may not be able to see your processing results (error/warnings or application image) in eRA Commons despite receiving a notification that eRA processing is complete and the results were posted in the PD/PI’s Commons account. This new symptom certainly isn’t acceptable and we are thankful that less than one percent of our applications have encountered this issue. No one wants applications failing to move forward without the opportunity to view/address issues or, worse yet, applications moving forward to NIH without the opportunity to view the assembled image. We are taking steps to identify problematic applications and notify submitters that issues were encountered, but remember it is ultimately your responsibility to track your application all the way through to image.

More information-

Although the timing of these new issues coincided with Grants.gov’s recent extended downtime for system upgrades, neither Grants.gov nor eRA has been able to definitively determine a specific system change to account for the issues we are now encountering. We’ll get to the bottom of it. Until then…

  • Heed the advice in Grants.gov’s FAQs and avoid special characters in form fields and filenames.
  • Be aware that cutting & pasting from word processors (like Microsoft Word and OpenOffice) that do automatic conversions on special characters can lead to problems. Our recent issues have been related to “smart quotes”, but word processors do spiffy things with other characters, too. Don’t even get me started on the two hyphen m-dash, which, by the way, tends to turn into question marks when included in form fields.Take the time to type directly into the form fields and take advantage of Adobe Reader’s Auto-Complete feature found in Form Preferences as a safer alternative than cut & paste for repetitive information.

  • If you submitted an application (and remembered to include the PD/PI’s Commons ID in the credential field of the SR/Key form), but don’t see the results in Commons - contact the eRA Help Desk for guidance.
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