Peer review will not perfectly establish the merit of a proposal, but it is, by comparison with alternatives, is probably the fairest. It is certainly the most commonly used by research funding agencies.
This section contains some tips on submitting your proposal for review and highlights the importance of understanding how proposals are prioritised by review panels.
- Do read the call for proposals carefully and follow all the requirements and guidelines.
- Do submit your proposal before the deadline. This means that you need to allow time for your proposal to be processed in your home institution.
- Do not exceed any page limits either in individual sections or the proposal as a whole.
- Do make sure that your proposal is written to be understood by a reviewer who may not be an expert in your very narrow field.
- Do bear in mind that you are in a competition. Your task is to convince the reviewers that your proposal merits funding in comparison to the others. All sections offer an opportunity to compete. Completing any section inadequately may cost you.
- If your proposal in a multidisciplinary domain, do write so that your proposal can be easily understood by researchers from all relevant fields.
- Do not use jargon, unexplained acronyms, etc.
Prioritisation Review Panels
Many review panels, as they discuss individual proposals, will initially assign each application to one of three recommendation categories: (1) ‘Definitely fund’, (2) ‘maybe fund’, (3) ‘do not fund’. Typically only a small fraction of proposals – say about 5%, – fall into the ‘definitely fund’ category after a first discussion of the proposals, with perhaps 30–40% in the ‘maybe fund’, and the remainder ‘do not fund’. Normally the funding agency will also have given some indication of how many proposals (or the amount of money available to fund proposals) they are likely to be able to fund, and this may only allow for funding about 10–15% of all the proposals submitted.
In this context, the key challenge for many good proposals is to make sure they survive the process of attrition as the review panel goes through the proposals (often multiple times) time looking for reasons to assign proposals to the ‘do not fund’ category.
Under these circumstances certain factors which do not necessarily make your application a ‘bad proposal’ will make your application less competitive relative to others. At this stage in the process, issues such as the proposal having unrealistic time-scales, an inadequate level of detail, uncertainty about the role of collaborators, or even the clarity or quality of the writing might be enough for your proposal to be moved from the ‘maybe fund’ category to ‘do not fund’.
Links to other resources:
- Demystifying Peer Review (2002) by Professor Peter Scott from the University of Warwick remains one of the most insightful - and entertaining - descriptions of the peer review process. (Reproduced here with the kind permission of the author).