NIH Reviewers II


Picking up from last weeks thoughts, methods descriptions are also important for the NIH, whereas they are far less important for most other agencies.

NSF, DoD, DoE, and the other funding sources that I have worked with are very logical and goal oriented in their grant review process. They are clearly focused on whether the product is significant, whether the team can make the product, and whether a market exists for the product. This is clearly seen from the bare bones and focused approach to writing the application and reviewing the application for these funding sources.

On the other hand, the NIH is more focused on academic credentials, as opposed to real life credentials and methods versus “can this group do it?”

Most other funding agencies assume that you can do the experiments outlined in your application as long as you have demonstrated success in this area or similar areas before. The agencies do not require a complete description of the experimental design and methods, as would be found in a publication. Most NIH reviewers do require this type of detail.

There are numerous reasons for this. First and foremost, this type of information is asked for in the application from the NIH, whereas it is not asked for in the applications of the other agencies. Again, this reflects the academic bent of the NIH, as opposed to a real life get it done attitude of the other agencies.

Thus for NIH applications, be sure to put in all the details of an experimental design and methods. Lack of details is one of the most common reasons why truly outstanding applications do not get funded by the NIH. Other agencies avoid this problem by assuming that if an applicant can show that they have already accomplished a task, then they should not have to describe that task in detail…clearly the team already knows how to do it. The NIH insists on knowing how you did the task, just in case you did not do it right the first time; so be sure to include sufficient details for NIH proposals.

Reviewers are instructed to not get caught up in the details and to ask the bigger question: can the team succeed given the overall approach? However, my experience has shown me time that most reviewers do get caught up in the need for details of the experiments. As a result, they sink excellent applications when all of the details of the methods are not present. A typical reviewer response is: “How can I evaluate the application if the methods are not complete?” To avoid this problem, be sure to include all of the details for NIH applications.

This weakness is being addressed by the current head of CSR, however it is difficult to change the course of a large ship overnight. In the meantime, be sure to put in the necessary details for the experimental approach and methods.

For more specific and additional information on this topic, click on this link: High Level SBIR/STTR Grant Writing Techniques.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or go to

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