Application Review Process

While developing and writing the application, PIs and other writers should consider the intended audience. This will most often be merit or peer reviewers, but it may also include one or more program manager(s), foundation board members, consumer advocates, etc.

Applicants should learn as much as possible about the review and selection process, such as the expertise or role of reviewers assigned to the application, as well as the review setting. For example, the proposal may be mailed to one or more experts to review at his or her ‘leisure’.  Such a reviewer will have ready access to a library or other resources. Consequently applications reviewed in this fashion may need to provide more detail than those reviewed in more controlled settings.  Alternatively, a reviewer may have a large number of applications to review at a panel meeting, not receive them until the reviewer arrives at the review site, have to read a number of similar applications in a hotel room without access to resources, and then discuss them with others.  It is essential that these proposals be extremely clear and well organized so the reviewer can easily prepare comments and be inspired to advocate strongly for the application.

Familiarity with the review process can help you prepare a focused, targeted application that is compelling, informative, as well as easy and enjoyable to read.
Please be aware that while reviewers may be from your general field or discipline, they may not have a high degree of expertise in your specific topic area.  Ideally your proposal should educate the reviewer and present your ideas, strategies, and thought processes in an extremely clear and compelling manner. You want your reviewers to advocate on your behalf. You can facilitate this goal by presenting a great project in a user-friendly manner and by avoiding formatting that might subconsciously irritate the reader (e.g. full justification of text, or use of Arial 10 point without white space between paragraphs).

In today’s competitive funding environment, you should do everything you can to ensure that your proposal is included among those that “must be” funded by the sponsor

Some common reasons sponsors choose not to award an otherwise fundable proposal include:

  • not following instructions, including failing to provide required and/or requested information, (your application may never even be submitted to the reviewers or panel if it does not adhere to application requirements);
  • sloppiness, e.g. typographical or grammatical errors, reference errors (if this is how you treat your applications, how  will you treat the sponsor’s work?);
  • narratives that are overwhelmingly “text dense”;
    • not using headers;
    • not incorporating white space;
    • not judiciously including figures/cartoons/illustrations/graphs or other graphics to minimize eye fatigue;
  • poorly organizing information;
  • not getting to the “point” of your project early in the narrative (e.g. first paragraph or first page);
  • the work plan is overly ambitious;
  • the work plan is not feasible because of reasons such as:  applicant team lacks experience with methods; essential resources are not available; funds requested are inappropriate;
  • the rationale for the approach is not described or approach not appropriate for the questions to be studied;
  • the rationale for the analytical methods is not described.