With so many new proposal reviewers joining us, we thought now would be a good time to re-share an explanation of rating options on proposals you review.
Selecting an Overall Rating
When you review an NSF proposal, you don’t need to give it a single letter score of E (excellent), V (very good), G (good), F (fair), or P (poor). In the reviewer system (through FastLane) you can check more than one box for “Overall Rating” to give a score between two of the ranks, like V/G or G/F when the 5-point system feels too coarse. By providing a split score, you are telling NSF that the single score, or “Overall Rating”, lies somewhere between the two categories. It’s fine but rare to provide a split score that spans more than two adjacent ratings. We most frequently see this when a reviewer loves, for example, the Intellectual Merit and is very disappointed by the Broader Impacts. In that case, we might see a E/P. If you decide to give such a score, it’s critically important to explain what it means; don’t make us guess!
On the flip side, be careful if you’re trying to select a score and check the wrong box: FastLane doesn’t automatically clear the first choice when you make another selection, creating the potential for unintended scores like “V/G/F/P”.
On rare occasions, a reviewer may opt not to provide an overall rating at all and just provide the written comments. While acceptable, we discourage this.
Finally, please strive to use the complete spectrum of scores. A reviewer that tends to rate most proposals E or V is ultimately less helpful to everyone — NSF, panelists, and PIs.
How Overall Ratings are Used
Generally, the written content of the review matters more than the rating score since we don’t rank proposals by their average scores (unlike some funding agencies). Nonetheless, scores aren’t ignored; they’re a concise indicator of a reviewer’s opinion, and they can be helpful for interpreting the written content.
During panel discussions, scores can be incredibly useful because they allow us to compare general opinions and quickly see if the reviewers are all starting from a similar place or whether there may be divergent views to work through. Being judicious in your assignment of scores can also be useful to you as a panelist to differentiate between your many assigned proposals and remember them through hours of discussions.
If you’re the PI and having issues viewing the scores of a proposal that you submitted, there is a dedicated helpdesk for FastLane issues at 1-800-673-6188 and an extensive online help resource.