Writing a rebuttal: take off your fighting gloves

For some funding schemes, applicants have the opportunity to write a rebuttal to the initial reviews of the proposal. Although some of the comments you receive may be unfair, irrelevant, or plain stupid, it’s your job to write a rebuttal that respectfully addresses reviewers’ comments.

Writing a rebuttal: take off your fighting gloves

Having a rebuttal phase in the grant review process is a great opportunity. It allows you to respond to reviewers’ comments before the final assessment of your proposal. It thus gives you the chance to explain yourself where needed and provide additional argumentation why your proposal should be funded. But how do you write a convincing rebuttal?

Take time to let emotions pass

Reading critical reviews of your grant proposal that was so carefully drafted, can be quite harsh. Especially if you feel some of the comments are unfair or clearly show lack of understanding by the reviewer, you may feel angry, frustrated, or worse. Take a couple of days to let your emotions pass before writing your response. Always wait until you’re ready to ‘respectfully disagree’ with the reviewer that so clearly missed the point.

Know your audience

As with any writing, it’s important to know your audience. Most of the time, the people reading your rebuttal are not the ones that reviewed your proposal in the first place. An important aspect of the rebuttal phase is thus to help the assessment committee to interpret the comments. As the committee is assigned with the impossible task to compare apples to oranges, try to make this as easy as possible. You can help them by translating the reviewers’ comments and your response to the evaluation criteria of the call for proposals.

The rebuttal itself

Take a moment to think about what you want to put in your rebuttal, regardless of the comments. For example, you may want to mention new preliminary data or a nice publication that came out since the grant deadline. Use these items in your responses to the reviewers’ comments, e.g. to stress feasibility or expertise. Finally, don’t only focus on the negative points raised, but also highlight the positive ones that are undoubtedly there.

If reviewers disagree, you can often use positive comments made by one reviewer to counter negative ones made by another. Also, try to reframe negative comments where possible. For example, state ‘reviewer 2 thinks additional experiments on X would benefit the project’ rather than ‘reviewer 2 thinks the proposed experiments are insufficient to provide interesting results’. If a reviewer completely missed the point, politely explain the point again to the assessment committee.

Our support trajectories include rebuttal advice

If you choose Fundament for a full support trajectory, we include advice on the rebuttal (if applicable for that grant). We feel the rebuttal can make or break your final assessment. Understanding the proposal and the evaluation criteria, we can provide tailored advice for writing your rebuttal in a convincing, non-defensive manner.

Author: Neeltje Peters

Co-founder and Research Funding Professional at Fundament.

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