Hints on Responding to Assessor's Reports (The Rejoinder Process)

In Summary:

  • Pick out the most important points

  • Answer factually

  • Reference where needed

  • Don't attack the assessor nor the system

A rejoinder is not an opportunity to substantially redesign the study: you have been assessed on the grant you submitted, and cannot be re-evaluated on a new study.

Is a response really necessary?

Yes! Take advantage of the opportunity to respond to assessors as it could make a difference to the eventual outcome of your application. Advice from granting bodies such as the ARC and NHMRC is that in most years about 10 percent of rejoinders make a difference to the outcome of an application.

In particular, a rejoinder which can successfully argue a criticism by drawing on evidence provided in the application, in peer-reviewed published literature or through comparison with other assessor reports can lead to a critical assessor report being disregarded by the funding body.

Do not feel obliged to use your entire character allowance - if you can say what you need to using a small paragraph, leave it at that. The Committee Members have a lot of paperwork to get through and superfluous information annoys them.

If you receive only positive and encouraging comments, it is still worthwhile preparing a rejoinder. Use these comments to reinforce the favourable impression that the Committee will have of your application. However, keep this type of rejoinder short.

Be aware that the comments don’t always reflect the rating given by the assessors. The rating is not available to the Applicant nor to Research Services.

Those who receive mixed comments should try to respond in a positive way to any potentially damaging remarks; for example if the assessor(s) point(s) to problems with methodology or structure. First deal strategically with any critical remarks, with the last part of the response pointing to favourable aspects. If you wish to take issue with an assessor’s comment, (eg. if the facts are incorrect) you should address the comments in a confident, positive manner.

Where more than one assessor makes similar remarks, address these issues carefully. If they highlight a weakness in your proposal, address their criticisms and highlight the strengths or merit of the proposed approach.

Where assessors differ on the same point, refer to the more positive comments of one when responding to the negative comments of the other.

For applicants who wish to ‘update’ their publications list, be aware that it will be up to the Granting Agency whether to accept what is essentially new information. In general, the application is complete at the time of submission, however, if, for instance, the assessor comments on your publication rate, it would be possible for you to use this as a mechanism to introduce information of this type.

Above all, do not make derogatory remarks about assessors, as this will not aid your application. Your comments should focus entirely on the content of the report.

Take time to consider what has been said about you and your project. Many applicants find it useful to have a ‘cooling down’ period prior to preparing the response. Although there is a very short period of time in which to respond, take full advantage of the available time.

Consult with all CI’s. It is assumed the response will reflect the views of multiple CI’s, but when completed should have a cohesive structure.

Have your response read by a colleague from within and outside the immediate field, if possible.

Strategies for dealing with common problems

Criticism: Mixed reviews.

Response Strategy: Those who receive mixed comments should try to respond in a positive way to any potentially damaging remarks; for example if the assessor(s) point(s) to problems with methodology or structure. First deal strategically with any critical remarks, with the last part of the response pointing to favorable aspects. If you wish to take issue with an assessor’s comment, (eg. if the facts are incorrect) you should address the comments in a confident, positive manner. Where assessors differ on the same point, refer to the more positive comments of one when responding to the negative comments of the other

Criticism: Where more than one assessor makes similar remarks highlighting a weakness in your proposal, address these issues carefully. Is there is a critical hypothesis not tested before submission or are you using novel techniques?

Response Strategy: Address their criticisms and highlight the strengths or merit of the proposed approach. Do you now have the study or the experiments in progress to provide information? Provide preliminary data where you can. Do the comments foreshadow rejection of a main hypothesis? What is your contingency plan? Will the project still be useful and have impact? Don’t attempt to propose a major new study.

Criticism: A reviewer proposes an approach, methodology or old/new technique that you have chosen not to include in your proposal.

Response Strategy: Comment on alternatives and reasons for your choice or whether a technique remains controversial. If the suggested approaches are beneficial, and it is feasible, will you include them? Feasibility should be your reason for choice.

Criticism: A reviewer cites a new study or reference of immediate relevance to your proposal.

Response Strategy: If you have not already done so, make every attempt to review this data and weigh its impact on your study. If you believe it has a major impact discuss your contingency plan.