Reasons for return of reviews
The AHRC takes great care to ensure that the reviews completed by members of its Peer Review College are appropriate and of value to both the applicant and our moderating panels. For that reason, if the AHRC feels that there are any elements of a review that do not meet its criteria, we will return them to the reviewer for amendment. The following is a list of common reasons why the AHRC might return a review for amendment.
- The comments and grades throughout a review contradict the overall grade given by the reviewer, e.g. the wider content of the review indicates that a proposal is not of a fundable quality but a fundable overall grade is given. This can sometimes happen when a reviewer is taking the potential of a project into consideration rather than the content of the proposal as it stands. Reviewers should focus on the proposal as it stands and not as it might be if the opportunity to resubmit is available. Revisiting the grading descriptors when awarding a grade can help reviewers to ensure that their comments are consistent with the overall grade given.
- The comments in a single section of the review don’t match the grade given for that section e.g. the content of an individual section indicates that there are serious concerns with that element of the proposal but section is graded “Good”. This could be because the reviewer has not balanced their comments and only commented on their concerns without highlighting the positive elements of that area of the proposal. Balanced comments highlighting both strengths and weaknesses will help the panel to moderate the various reviews for a proposal and will give the principal investigator (PI) the necessary feedback to respond to reviews effectively.
- A reviewer declares a low confidence level in their ability to provide a review. In asking reviewers to declare their confidence level, the AHRC looks for an indication of a reviewer’s expertise within their field rather than their experience of writing peer review per se. If a reviewer doesn’t feel that they can confidently review a proposal because it falls outside or only minimally within their field of expertise, they will need to consider whether they should accept the review request at all. If reviewing a specific area of a multidisciplinary proposal, reviewers should consider their confidence level for the area of the proposal that falls within their field of expertise rather than the entire project. Under these circumstances it is perfectly acceptable to note within a review that the comments and grades relate to a specific area or discipline within the proposal.
- The confidence levels given by the reviewer are inconsistent with their comments e.g. a reviewer clearly demonstrates an expert understanding of the proposal in question but marks themselves as having a low level of expertise. Most commonly this is because a reviewer is being modest or has limited experience of providing peer review for the AHRC. It is worth remembering that the AHRC aims to approach people with the requisite expertise when seeking peer review. If a reviewer is confident that the proposal falls within their field of expertise and that they can provide a review that meets our criteria then their declared confidence levels should reflect that.
- The tone and language used by a reviewer is confrontational or emotive. AHRC’s moderating panels can only moderate if the peer reviews received are balanced and objective. It’s also worth remembering that the PI will have sight of the peer review received as part of the right to reply process and it may prove difficult for them to respond effectively if a reviewer’s tone or language is subjective or unbalanced.
- The reviewer identifies themselves within their comments (inadvertently or overtly). While the panel is made aware of the identity of our peer reviewers, applicants are not. Anonymity of peer review is important to ensure that members of the Peer Review College can express their views freely.
- The reviewer identifies the grade within their comments (inadvertently or overtly). By overtly stating the grade or implying that a particular grade might have been awarded within a review, it can give the PI a sense that the decision has already been made regarding their proposal thus giving them a premature sense of success or failure. This might then affect how they approach the right to reply process and might lead them to question their final outcome if it doesn’t reflect the grade implied within a review.
- If the comments made are speculative or don’t relate to the content or context of the proposal. As noted in point 1, this can happen when a reviewer is looking at the potentiality of the project rather that the proposal as it stands. Reviewers should focus on the proposal in front of them and not as it could be if changes were to be made.
- A reviewer’s comments are too brief. AHRC’s decision making processes rely on expert peer review of the proposals submitted. In order to moderate a proposal effectively, our panels need to have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal as identified by reviewers. Comments should be justified so that the moderating panel can make an informed decision based solely on the expert peer reviews received.
- The reviewer has not addressed the areas expected for effective peer review and there is little or no critical examination of the proposal. As noted in point 9, AHRC moderating panels require expert peer review that identifies both strengths and weaknesses in order to moderate a proposal effectively. It is important that research questions, context and methodologies are considered when writing peer review for AHRC. There are full guidelines regarding peer review processes on the AHRC website.
- The reviewer makes specific comments regarding AHRC processes and policies. The AHRC welcomes comments and feedback from members of the Peer Review College regarding our processes and policies. However, including this kind of commentary or feedback within a review is unhelpful to the applicant and panel as it has no bearing on the assessment of the proposal in question. Members of the Peer Review College should address any comments or feedback regarding our processes and policies to the AHRC PRC Team.