This is for everyone out there who submits to proposals to the Division of Materials Research, and more broadly, to the National Science Foundation. Here's some context for those who don't know the story. The NSF has a Grant Proposal Guide that spells out, in detail, the proper content and formatting for proposals. You can understand why they do this, particularly with regard to things like font size. There's a 15 page limit on the "Project Description" part of a proposal, and if they didn't specify a font size and margins, there would be people trying to game the system by submitting proposals in 6-pt unreadable font with 1cm margins. Historically, NSF has erred on the side of latitude about the minutiae, however. For example, they have never really been aggressive about policing whether the bibliographic references are perfectly formatted.
That's why this news came as a surprise: As part of a new policy, starting this past fall, DMR is taking basically a zero-tolerance approach regarding compliance with the Grant Proposal Guide. That means, for example, that any letter of collaboration included with a proposal can only say, in effect, "I agree to do the tasks listed in the Project Description". Anything more (e.g., context about what the collaborator's expertise is, or mentioning that this continues an existing collaboration) is no longer allowed, and would be cause for either deletion of the letter or outright rejection of the proposal without review. This new policy also means, and this is scary, that your references have to be perfectly formatted - leaving out titles, or leaving out the second page number, or using "et al." instead of long author lists - all of these can lead to a proposal being rejected without review. I heard this first hand from a program officer. Imagine spending weeks writing a proposal, and having it get bounced because you used the wrong setting in bibTeX or EndNote.
We can have a vigorous discussion in the comments about whether this policy makes much sense. In the meantime, though, I think it's very important that people be aware of this change. The bottom line: Scrupulously follow the Grant Proposal Guide. Cross every "t" and dot every "i".
Please spread this information - if one division of NSF is doing this, you can bet that it will spread, and you don't want to be the one whose proposal gets bounced.