Grant Writing

Illuminating Reviewer’s Criteria in Grant Writing

A grant application is a marketing tool to sell your idea to two very different audiences at the same time: the funding agency and the review committee. The review committee is the gatekeeper for the funding agency, they recommend which proposals the funding agency should support. The reviewers often have a scientific background in your field and many will be familiar with not only the area of need you have identified to work in, but also your organization, if not you personally as an investigator. This can be a very daunting thought. It is important to understand how the review process works with your funding agency so that your funding strategy is successful.

  • Understand how the review process works. Study sections and review panels change with each agency and even between RFPs depending on the situation. Understanding the review process is vital to your success. Ask your Program Officer to explain the reviewing process.
    • What are the core criteria used to evaluate applications?
    • How is the overall impact score generated? How does the scoring system work?
    • Are there any special circumstances, such as young investigator exemptions?
    • Which is the most qualified study section or review panel for my application?
  • Keep your proposal exciting to read. While each funding agency has a different review process, and each review committee is different; there are similarities to keep in mind while writing your application.
    • Reviewers are often reading thousands of pages each day. You need to make a good impression fast and reviewers should understand your project by the end of the first page.
    • You need to ensure that your enthusiasm for the project is transferred through reviewer understanding in the very first read, they should not have to re-read the proposal.
    • Only about 10-20% of reviewers will be experts in your field, and they must understand your project clearly within the first read-through of your paper.
    • You must write the application for the reviewer and not for yourself. The harder the application is to read, the less the reviewer will want to read it, and the less likely it becomes that they will be an advocate for your proposal in the final selection committee.      
  • Hierarchical Headings are your friend. By using clear section headings, subsection headings and sub-subsection headings, the reviewer will be able to clearly see the structure of the proposal at a glance, and will be able to navigate the proposal more easily.
      • Subsection Headings
        • Sub-subsection Headings
  • Stop and Consider: Is your application pretty? “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, but an unattractive proposal leads to reviewer frustration and application failure.
  • Keep your proposal visually stimulating. Reviewers are turning thousands of pages, and the more visually pleasing your application is and the easier it is to read, the more they are going to get excited about reading it all the way through. Ensure that:
    • The typeface is 11 points or higher, if allowed, to ensure easy reading.
    • You do not use headers, footers or footnotes in your application.
    • You use a minimum of one and a half-inch margins, if permissible, for the top, bottom, left and right margins throughout the entire proposal. Wider margins are more pleasing!
    • You use a blank line between paragraphs to increase readability.
    • You also use bright, colorful and easy-to-read figures that are direct and to the point and add substantially to the application.

Further Reading

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