Understand the Peer Review Process to Inform Your Next Application

Funding News Edition: April 05, 2023
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To plan and write an application that does well in scientific peer review, we advise you to start with a solid understanding of your reviewer audience, the criteria they use, and the review process. Leverage this knowledge and NIAID’s advice linked below to craft an application that is likely to appeal to peer reviewers.

Write for Your Peer Reviewer Audience

As we explain in full detail at Know Your Audience, for an investigator-initiated application, you may be able to anticipate which standing review group and primary reviewers are most likely to review your application. You must not contact peer reviewers directly, though we encourage you to check their areas of scientific expertise in relation to your topic. This foreknowledge will help you write clearly to fit your reviewers’ areas of scientific focus and levels of understanding.

If you apply in response to a solicited opportunity (e.g., request for applications), NIH staff will arrange a custom special emphasis panel (SEP) of reviewers. Although you won’t be able to check a specific SEP roster before you apply, you can assume that your reviewers will have a variety of expertise in the areas of science described in the opportunity.  

For all applications, you should include enough background explanation for any reviewers who may be less familiar with the cutting edge of your subfield of science. Try to anticipate and address potential questions or concerns. 

Customize to Reflect the Review Criteria

Write to ensure your application clearly fulfills all of the criteria that your reviewers will consider:

  • Standard NIH Review Criteria: Significance, Investigators, Innovation, Approach, and Environment
  • Any opportunity-specific criteria or special requirements listed in your chosen notice of funding opportunity (NOFO)
  • The Review Guidelines for your NOFO’s activity code (e.g., R01, K22, F31)

Support the Review Process

During First-Level Peer Review, NIAID and some other NIH institutes and centers have begun directing reviewers to complete new online critique templates (OCTs). These OCTs are meant to help standardize and streamline the review process. We anticipate their use will proliferate over the next year.

Knowing this, you can make it as easy as possible for reviewers to Write Critiques, score your application, and notice where your application shines. For example:

More Grantsmanship Advice

Refer to NIAID’s Apply for a Grant for further guidance on how to strengthen your application. For personalized advice, reach out to a program officer in your area of science or the scientific/program contact listed in your chosen NOFO. Program staff can provide application and opportunity advice, NIAID's perspective on your research, and confirm whether NIAID will accept your application. Follow the instructions at When to Contact an NIAID Program Officer.

Contact Us

Email us at deaweb@niaid.nih.gov for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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