Top 10 Problems Reviewers Cite in Applications


As you prepare your grant application, avoid these common pitfalls! Here is a list of the most frequent problems reviewers in the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) cite when they critique grant applications:

  1. Lack of new or original ideas
  2. Absence of an acceptable scientific rationale
  3. Lack of experience in the essential methodology
  4. Questionable reasoning in experimental approach
  5. Uncritical approach
  6. Diffuse, superficial, or unfocused research plan
  7. Lack of sufficient experimental detail
  8. Lack of knowledge of published relevant work
  9. Unrealistically large amount of work proposed
  10. Uncertainty concerning future directions

Find more advice on the CSR’s Answers for Applicants and the Insider’s Guide to Peer Review for Applicants pages.



  1. What if the application does not include the prespecified population for study, e.g. adults and elderly and children are in the FOA, for a vaccine study, but the authors did not specify anything about elderly , and adults were an afterthought. Such that there was hardly any way that they could ever meet the targeted number of adults. The investigators primary target focus was children in a pediatric site, who would have accounted for more than 80% of subjects in the study, which specified all age groups for inclusion. Was it reasonable to still review the study? Or reject it up front?

    1. NIH expects age-appropriate inclusion of participants in every study, and each application is expected to clearly explain the age range of their study population in the Inclusion Across the Lifespan section. Reviewers will consider this plan in their evaluation of Approach and Additional Review criteria and this is factored into the application’s impact score. For more details:

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