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Peer Review Notes September 2012

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Make the Best Use of the “Additional Comments to Applicant” Box

An image of the Additional Comments to Applicant Box from the Public Health Service Grant Application

NIH reviewers are advised not to help the applicant rewrite an application through their written critiques, which should stay focused on evaluating the application’s scientific and technical merit. Thus, many reviewers and applicants are perplexed by the last section of the reviewer critique templates: The Additional Comments to Applicant section.

This section was developed during the Enhancing Peer Review initiative to allow reviewers to provide additional information or

​advice to the applicant. These comments need not relate directly to the scientific or technical merit of the application, do not factor into the final impact score, are not binding, and do not represent a consensus of the review panel. In fact, other reviewers may not agree with them. Finally, applicants are not obligated to address these comments when writing an introduction to a resubmission application.
We offer the following examples to help reviewers see how they may use this opportunity:
Information that Might Be Useful for New or Early Stage Investigators
The application creates the impression that the New Investigator is rather isolated intellectually. It appears that s/he would benefit from mentorship and interactions outside of his/her institution. These should be available locally.
This application is overly ambitious . . . a common mistake for junior investigators. This investigator would be wise to develop fewer aims more thoroughly. It’s always risky to base subsequent aims on the outcome of the first one.
Comments that Might Help Applicants with Non-Discussed Applications
For such a talented investigator, his/her time would be better spent on a more compelling research question. I do not recommend revising and resubmitting this application.
The applicant should write a smaller grant focused on gathering sufficient preliminary data.
Notes That Alert an Applicant to Grant-Writing Issues
This application is frustrating to read because of extensive jargon that is not defined and experiments that aren’t connected to specific aims. A thorough rewrite with the help of an experienced grant writer is suggested before this application is resubmitted.
Ideas that Might Be Helpful for an Applicant to Consider
It would be interesting to see the investigator try the new technique of XYZ et al. on their samples. One might expect much better resolution.
The abc mutant phenotype is remarkably similar to that described for these new loss of function strains. Has the investigator thought about whether these mutations are in the abc pathway?
Because such comments could be very helpful to applicants, reviewers are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to use the Additional Comments box. We hope that this feature of the reviewer critique template will help applicants in deciding on appropriate Next Steps.