Having your proposal or idea reviewed by colleagues is an essential step in the process of writing a grant application. This formative peer review can include:
- informal discussion to talk through ideas
- informal review of the application by academic colleagues
- input from research development staff who have experience in supporting the preparation of successful funding proposals to a wide range of funders, and within a wide range of disciplines
- formal review by an institutional panel of reviewers with experience in reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from the sponsor in question. In some cases the panel may have the authority to recommend that the proposal is refined or re-written before it can be submitted
The aim of any review is always to improve the quality of your application to increase the chance of funding and never to block or delay your application without good reason.
If improvements are suggested, it means that your proposal could be better and you should aim to revise it before submitting to increase the chances of success. Try to be open minded to what the reviewer is saying. Reviewers want you to be funded!
You should allow time to discuss your proposal with peer groups, colleagues and potentially with senior and more experienced researchers.
Try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful with the funder and/or scheme you are submitting to.
Formal institutional panel review procedures are in place for certain funders and/or schemes such as ESRC responsive mode and NERC Discovery Science (responsive mode).
Additionally, schools and faculties may operate their own peer review procedures locally, so check with your school and Faculty Research and Innovation Office to find out what procedures you need to follow.
It is important to seek peer review well in advance of the submission deadline so you have time to address the comments raised by your reviewers.
If you find that the comments from your peer reviewers are contradictory, it is important to consider them objectively, and address as much of the feedback as possible. It may also be helpful to seek further advice.
How to undertake a review
Reviewers should provide fair, prompt and rigorous evaluations and respect confidentiality when reviewing others’ work.
Reviews should be thorough and constructively critical. It is in nobody’s interests to be overly lenient – this wastes the time of both the reviewer and the reviewee – but remember that the applicant has invested a lot of effort and time into developing the proposal.
Any comments should aim to outline how it can be improved, rather than making criticisms without suggestions for remedial action.
A template form can often be used to undertake the review and for certain schemes these will be provided by RIS and tailored to the advertised assessment criteria of the scheme.
Treat the material under review in confidence: do not disclose the information in the proposal to anyone else.
Reviewers must also declare any conflicts of interest, including professional, personal or commercial conflicts, and must not take advantage of any information received as a result of their peer reviewing role.
ESRC peer review process
The University holds a list of reviewers with experience of reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from ESRC. This is called the ESRC College.
Formal procedures are in place to ensure that all applications for ESRC Standard Grants (responsive mode) are reviewed by two members of the College. A panel then makes a recommendation, based on the two reviews, on whether the application can be submitted, or should be revised or re-written.
NERC peer review process
The University holds a list of reviewers with experience of reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from NERC. This is called the NERC College.
Formal procedures are in place to ensure that all applications for NERC Discovery Science grants (responsive mode) are reviewed by two members of the College. A panel then makes a recommendation, based on the two reviews, on whether the application can be submitted, or should be revised or re-written.
NERC operates a quota system whereby institutions are limited to a maximum number of submissions per responsive mode round, based upon previous success rates. Therefore, as part of the peer review system, the review panel must rank the applications and only permit submission of a limited number.