My research proposal received many comments such as "is not convincingly sound", "is not convincingly demonstrated", "is not convincingly developed". I was not able to draw the hints to improve the proposal using those comments. Does that mean the reviewers are so lazy to review it in details to make a clear comment or are they imply something else?

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    In some places, reviewers are actually prevented from giving useful feedback, because anything concrete they complain about could be used as an argument to try and contest the result in court. Yes, this is sad. Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


My research proposal received many comments such as "is not convincingly demonstrated"

As a potential PI, it is your task to communicate the benefits of your proposed research clearly, and to convince the funding body (represented by reviewers) that your research program has a good chance to succeed and have a positive and strong impact. Reviewers can not engage in a lengthy dialog with applicants; hence, if application makes claims of novelty, importance and affordability of the proposed research, that are not properly explained and justified in the application, the reviewers can not say much except what "I dunno if this is true or not", or, in a more professional form "so-and-so is not convincingly demonstrated".

I was not able to draw the hints to improve the proposal using those comments.

I am sure this is not because you were lazy, correct? Implying something like that is never helpful or constructive.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to help without seeing your proposal and the exact reviewers' comments. Please consider asking a more experienced colleague in your vicinity to act as a mentor. An extra pair of eyes may really help you make sense of the reviewers' comments and find ways of clarifying statements in your proposal.

  • Well, I did not get what you mean. I did not imply anything. I only asks if there is something in the context of reviewer that they say so but mean so so. From the reviewer comments, the only thing can be concluded is that those part of the proposal does not convinve them. The only way is to rewrite it without knowing what is not exactly clear. To put in more context, the proposal is reviewed by other two senior colleagues in the field.
    – kstn
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 10:04
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    Were your senior colleagues lazy, then? See my point -- suggesting someone was lazy does not help to solve the problem. Try showing your proposal to someone not exactly from your area of research and ask them to explain it back to you. See how much of your reasoning they can follow and where they lose track. Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 10:43
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    @kstn Sometimes grant reviewers will offer helpful advice, but this is not really their responsibility. If you're looking for mentorship, I echo Dmitry's recommendation that you explicitly seek it out. Good luck.
    – academic
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 13:13

This is more a long comment than an answer, but...

When I started my (current) tenure-track position (and I am now tenured), I did what many people in my position did, which was to write a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation. It was soundly rejected with fairly unhelpful comments.

In part because I managed to get the same proposal funded (for much less money) by another source, I did not apply for an NSF grant the following year, so the NSF did what they frequently do to help unsuccessful applicants understand the process (and because they need panel members): they invited me to serve on a panel to evaluate grant proposals. (This was many years ago; confidentiality of panel service is no longer much of an issue.)

Reading several (around 10, in a month) grants closely and participating in the discussion of many (around 40, over 3 days) more grants helped me tremendously in understanding how certain proposals were much more convincing than other proposals.

In my case, I learned that, given my publication record and the quality of the ideas I could come up with, the best proposals simply blew any proposal I could write completely out of the water. Since funding rates are around 20%, I have never found it worthwhile to submit a proposal to the NSF ever again. Indeed, there were no helpful comments I could have gotten on my first proposal, because the only reasonable comment was that, given the competition, it wasn't close to being competitive.

  • @Woo I found your comment very helpful. Is that what you mean that publication record plays an important role in the reviewer perspective?
    – kstn
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 11:58
  • Of course - the grantors are much more likely to believe you will actually be able to do the research you've proposed if you've successfully done similar research before. Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 14:24
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    > if you've successfully done similar research before --- but of course, don't forget that your proposed research must be novel and not incremental )) Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 15:16

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