Response to reviewers
Responding to reviews
UKRI and a number of other funders give Principal Investigators (PIs) the opportunity to respond to comments made by reviewers during the assessment process.
This is most commonly known as the ‘Response to reviewers’. The success of the response in addressing any concerns or questions raised by reviewers can be vital in ultimately securing funding.
The PI response did not fully allay the concerns of the reviewers and could have been clearer … On the research design, the investigators agree that more work … is required by providing only a sketchy response
Responding to the challenge of whether or not the researchers will be able to produce XXX, the researchers reply that this is the focus of the research! The researchers do a good job in their reply in accounting for the costs … but little other technical detail as requested by reviewer 3.
Process and timescales
Calls vary in the time between application submission and PIs being asked to respond, but it is usually between six weeks and three months.
PIs will usually only be sent reviews and asked to respond if their proposals have been scored highly enough to go to the assessment panel.
UKRI funders will usually give the PI five working days to respond to all of their reviewers’ comments in a two/three page response document, which is uploaded to the application system.
The number of reviewers does not make a difference to the length of the allowed response, and the timeframe for responses is something that you and your Co-Investigators should be aware of during the application process.
If funders receive late reviews after the others have been sent to the PI, they will decide whether to give the PI additional time to respond. This can be as short a period as 48 hours and can involve re-writing the original PI response document to accommodate a response to the additional review.
Research Council staff will make clear to panellists where reviews have been received late and PIs have had less or no time to respond.
Hints and tips
Good practice is remarkably common across funders and disciplines, and advice and support is available.
Research & Innovation Development staff across the University and some Faculty R&I Offices offer support for writing and checking PI responses. If you’re not sure who to contact, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following hints and tips are based on feedback from panel members and those who have written successful PI responses:
- Remember you are not addressing your response to the reviewers. The reviewer who raised the particular question or concern never sees your response and the panel members may not be specialists in the same area. Make your case to a third party (the panel), who are moderating the reviews they have received and ultimately producing a ranked list of applications.
- Take a deep breath… The reviewers’ comments can sometimes seem dismissive or appear to deliberately misunderstand the point of your proposal. Take time to provide a calm and considered response, and always ask trusted colleagues to check what you have written before submitting. Try not to dismiss any comments as ‘obviously wrong’, but instead suggest that you want to ‘clarify’ a point.
- Handling suggestions made by reviewers. If the reviewers have suggested a good and constructive idea, there is no harm in acknowledging and incorporating it as long as this is feasible and it does not contradict the main focus of your proposal.
Alternatively, you can explain that suggestions made by reviewers are, for example, “an interesting idea but not feasible to incorporate”, or something that could potentially be followed up in a second project once this initial phase of research has been completed.
It is important not to concede too much ground and give the impression that your study has not been thought through in enough detail or can be improved fundamentally. If you are not sure, seek a second opinion from a colleague.
- Be systematic. Make sure you read each review thoroughly and pick out every single comment that needs a response. Be clear about which point you are answering when writing your PI response (for example, by using the reviewer reference) and address each question seriously and in turn. Be clear and analytical.
- Stick to the facts. Make use of supporting evidence, pilot data and published work where these support your case. Avoid trying to steer the panel or ‘spinning’ reviewers’ comments to change their meaning, as this can really annoy panel members.
- Be as clear and concise as you can. Don’t use more space than you need and don’t waste space thanking the reviewers or highlighting their positive points, as the panel will have already seen both the application and the reviews.
In some cases, PI responses may not be given to the panel in advance of the meeting and may instead be tabled on the day. As panel members will have to read them quickly, make it easy for them by using plain language, clear formatting and bullet points where appropriate.
Helpful external resources on writing a good PI response:
- Thoughts from ESRC mock panel (ESRC)
- Assessment process – responding (EPSRC)
- 10 expert tips for responding to peer review comments (MRC) (this link goes to a page that has now been archived by MRC)
- Funding decisions – insider insights (MRC) (this link goes to a page that has now been archived by MRC)
- Responding to reviewers’ comments (NERC)