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One of the best ways (in the United States of America) to learn about writing competitive grant proposals is to participate in technical reviews for Federal grant-making agencies. Federal agencies select and invite grant reviewers for specific grant programs, based upon the reviewers’ knowledge, education and experience. They select members of grant review panels to reflect diversity of race/ethnicity, gender, experience, expertise, and geography.


This post explores serving as a grant reviewer (also called peer reviewers or expert panelists) in terms of qualifications, logistics, compensation, and the potential benefits of reviewing to the reviewer. A later post will explore current opportunities – as of October 2012 – to review Federal grant programs.



Reviewers use their expertise to evaluate applications objectively and score them against published evaluation criteria. Prospective reviewers must be willing and able: to provide written and oral evaluative comments based on professional knowledge measured against such criteria – not personal opinion; to listen attentively to the input of other panelists; to engage in discussions of their ratings and the rationales for them; to negotiate and bridge differences; and to work with other panelists to synthesize evaluative comments. Prospective reviewers also must be able to exercise their highest level of personal and ethical standards to review proprietary information; to respect and maintain confidentiality and impartiality; and to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest. Expertise in the subject area to be reviewed is indispensable.



Grant reviews for Federal grant programs commonly last from 3 to 5 days, but may also require further time commitments beyond the actual review period. On-site reviews often take place in hotels or other facilities the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As alternatives, some grant reviews may occur through off-site teleconferences, or they may occur through off-site field reader reviews (where reviewers independently review proposals from wherever they are based, do not need to travel, and do not discuss the proposals as a group).



When on-site review and/or on-site training of reviewers are parts of the process, the Federal grant-making agencies will make all of the logistical arrangements for their grant reviewers. They will pay for travel expenses (e.g., airfare, ground transportation), and other allowable costs. At the conclusion of the review process, each reviewer may receive an honorarium, which may be based either on a per day rate or a per proposal rate.



Grant reviewers gain many skills and accrue other benefits through their experiences on review panels. Among such benefits are:

  • Acquiring first-hand knowledge of the grant-making and peer review process
  • Learning about common problems with proposals
  • Discovering strategies to write strong proposals
  • Networking with professional colleagues
  • Meeting program officers who manage programs related to the reviewers’ interests
  • Exercising professional judgment and expertise


A later post will explore current opportunities to review proposals for Federal grant-making agencies.



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