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Introduction to Merit/Peer Review

Whether submitting scholarly articles to academic journals or proposals to funding agencies, peer review ensures that a fair, transparent process is employed in judging the merits of proposed projects. Understanding the process and how to interpret reviewer comments is important as you continue to refine proposals for submission and re-submission. Different funding agencies employ different review processes; below is information for four funding agencies that will help you with the process.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Through its merit review process, the National Science Foundation (NSF) ensures that proposals submitted are reviewed in a fair, competitive, transparent, and in-depth manner.

National Institute of Health (NIH)

NIH policy is intended to ensure that grant applications submitted to the NIH are evaluated on the basis of a process that is fair, equitable, timely, and conducted in a manner free of bias. The NIH dual peer review system is mandated by statute in accordance with section 492 of the Public Health Service Act and federal regulations governing “Scientific Peer Review of Research Grant Applications and Research and Development Contract Proposals” (42 CFR Part 52h-)

The NIH Center for Scientific Review also publishes a monthly newsletter, called “Peer Review Notes”, which is very informative. This newsletter can be accessed at from the CSR website, and you can register to subscribe here.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

The review process stands at the center of NEH’s work. Annually, the Endowment conducts more than 200 review panels, involving nearly 1,000 outside experts, in its evaluation of approximately 5,700 applications across 40 grant programs. The Endowment recruits panelists from every state, drawing on a wide and diverse pool of scholars and other humanities experts.

US Department of Education

Peer review panels are typically comprised of 5-7 individuals who have the required skills, training or expertise to evaluate the content of applications submitted under specific priorities. Using competition-specific evaluation criteria, peer reviewers score and comment upon applications through a web-based scoring system. These panels typically meet for 3 days, to discuss the submitted applications.

The Value of Becoming a Reviewer

Serving as a reviewer provides invaluable insight into how the proposal process operates, and allows you to develop a fine-grained understanding of what separates successful proposals from those not chosen for funding.  Below are some links about this process.