Review Criteria

Developing a Compelling Grant Application

Section 5

Review Criteria


Marcel Salive, MD, MPH

Wendy J. Weber, ND, PhD, MPH


Contributing Editor

Karen Staman, MS


Research applications are reviewed and scored by a group of scientific experts from the extramural community in a process called peer review based on significance, investigators, innovation, approach, and environment. RFAs and PARs often include additional nonstandard review criteria. In addition, all applications that include an NIH-defined clinical trial have specific review criteria, including study timeline; milestones; resources and data sharing plan; protection of human subjects; inclusion of women, minorities, and children; and addressing potential biohazards. For applications that include distinct phases, such as the UG3/UH3 mechanism used by the NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Projects, reviewers assess the clarity and appropriateness of proposed milestones that must be met for the transition from the first phase to the second.


Common pitfalls seen in applications:

  • Overly ambitious—proposes research beyond the length of the application
  • Missing or inappropriate control groups
  • Lack of sufficient expertise or skilled collaborators needed to complete the studies
  • Insufficient publications in the area of proposed studies
  • Studies that lack appropriate statistical power to address the primary hypothesis
  • Lack of documentation and experience needed to recruit the population for the study

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this chapter should not be interpreted as representing the official viewpoint of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, or the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health except where noted.



Version History

Published December 13, 2018


Salive M, Weber W. Developing a Compelling Grant Application: Review Criteria. In: Rethinking Clinical Trials: A Living Textbook of Pragmatic Clinical Trials. Bethesda, MD: NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory. Available at: Updated August 13, 2019. DOI: 10.28929/115.