Tips on how to write a good peer review
We are very grateful for the time and consideration peer reviewers give applications we are assessing. It helps our Research Grants Committee in their assessment, ultimately leading to recommendations to our Board of Trustees regarding whether to fund an application or not.
We have collated some tips to help peer reviewers when completing their review:
Conflict of interest
If there are any potential conflicts of interest, please contact the Dunhill office before agreeing to review the proposal.
Examples of a conflict of interest include:
- Employed by the same institution as the applicant(s)
- Actively involved in research collaborations with the applicants(s)
- Working closely with the applicant(s), for example as a co-author or PhD Supervisor, or has worked closely in the last 4 years
- Holding a current position on the governing body of or an honorary position within the institution(s) of the applicant(s)
- In receipt of personal remuneration from one of the applicants’ employer or organisation where they are based
- Personal/family relationship with the applicant(s)
If it is decided that you do not have a conflict of interest, but you would like to declare that you worked with the applicant 10 years ago, for example, then please detail this at the bottom of the form.
Read our Peer Review guidelines
After you have agreed to review an application, we will send you our peer review guidelines. This provides you with guidance on how to navigate our online grants management portal and our scoring rubric. If you are not clear on how to complete your review or view the application or supporting documents, please contact the Dunhill office for assistance.
Don’t make it personal
Try to keep your review strictly professional, not personal. Bear in mind that, if you opt to, your comments will be fed back to the applicant. In order to remain anonymous, it’s important to avoid including anything in your assessment that will identify you personally. This includes making references to your own work, where you have worked or who you have worked with.
Be clear and concise
Use clear, accessible language and avoid jargon – not everybody reading your comments will be a specialist in the field. There is also no need to reiterate the content of the proposal or re-state the assessment questions, as the proposal will be read carefully by panel members.
Point out strengths and weaknesses
If you find a flaw, explain the implications: do they invalidate a single result, or make a significant portion of the grant impractical? Is it fatally flawed? If so, please say why. Distinguish between major and minor issues. Can you identify what could be done better? Are you familiar with an alternative, more suitable approach? Be clear about the severity of the flaw and tell us the strengths and weakness of the project. Give us the evidence for your views.
The proposal should contain everything you need to be able to formulate an opinion. Consider the following questions: Do the abstract and introduction clearly identify the need for this research, and its relevance? Are the hypotheses, aims and objectives clear? Is the methodology and experimental design clearly set out and justified? Does the methodology target the main question(s) appropriately? Is the work programme feasible? Are there any ethical issues? Are the researchers up to the job? Do they have the right team, experience and infrastructure? Are they leading the way in their field? Does it look like good value for money?
The Trust is keen to support early career researchers as lead applicants. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to the Trust if this is the applicant’s first significant grant, but what is important to the Trust is that they have a strong and supportive team around them and the infrastructure the project needs to succeed.
Praise good grants
If it’s a really good proposal, then say so and tell us why. Sometimes we get short reviews that simply say the grant is great (or not) which isn’t much help! The panel members might not know that a particular group have the necessary expertise to answer the research question posed, or that the question is absolutely pivotal at this point in time or that the proposed methodology is the most appropriate.
Match scores to comments
We sometimes see, what appears to be, quite damning criticism with a high score, which is confusing! Therefore, please therefore read the rubric and make sure your comments match your score. If your comments relate to aspects of the proposal that aren’t critical to the success of the project, make this clear.
Make it useful
Remember that, with your permission, your comments will be fed back anonymously to rejected applicants and if appropriate, successful applicants.
For unsuccessful applicants, peer review comments are vital to understanding:
why their application wasn’t supported
how they can improve any future applications.
Be aware of unconscious bias
We all have biases, what are yours? Be aware of them and consider the proposal objectively. Think about it outside of the context of your own field of research.
Ensure that your review is constructive and helpful and not unnecessarily mean or offensive. Sometimes it is necessary to submit a harsh review if an application is fatally flawed, but never a rude one. Remember to adhere to the ‘golden rule’ of peer reviewing (M. A. McPeek, et al. Am. Naturalist 173, E155–E158; 2009): “review for others as you would have others review for you”.
Give it time
Finally, we don’t recommend you leaving it to the day before the review is due to start your assessment! Give yourself time to read the proposal thoroughly before writing and submitting your review. We try to ensure you have at least a month to review the application and we will send a reminder a week before the review is due.