Proposal Review at NSF

Serving as a Reviewer

NSF relies entirely on the willingness of qualified reviewers in the science and engineering community. In addition to providing a service to the community, reviewers benefit by:

  • gaining firsthand knowledge of the peer review process;
  • learning about common problems with proposals;
  • discovering strategies to write strong proposals; and,
  • meeting colleagues and NSF program officers managing programs related to your interests.
Serve as a reviewer at NSF

The Review Process

The National Science Foundation (NSF) utilizes a structured merit review process ensuring proposals submitted are reviewed in a fair, competitive, and transparent manner. The process is described in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) and on the NSF Merit Review website. The website provides guidance on Proposal Preparation and Submission, Proposal Review and Processing, Award Processing, Merit Review Facts, FAQs, and more.

Peer Review

NSF uses multiple peer review processes including ad hoc, in-person panel, virtual panel, internal, combination (e.g., in-person and virtual panel), and co-review (i.e., review by more than one program). Which process is used can depend on the program and/or the Program Officer. Watch this video of a mock review panel for an NSF CAREER proposal in the Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) division.

Review Criteria

All NSF proposals are reviewed according to the National Science Board approved criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Additional review criteria may be described in the solicitation.

Intellectual Merit


Broader Impacts


The potential to advance knowledge


The potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes


These criteria are based on merit review principles and are applied through consideration of the following five elements. Merit review principles, criteria, and the five elements are described in the PAPPG Chapter III.A.

1)     What is the potential for the proposed activity to:

  1. Advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit); and
  2. Benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)?

2)     To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?

3)     Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate mechanisms to assess success?

4)     How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?

5)     Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

NSF Best Practices

Always include suggested reviewers with your application.
If you believe your proposal equally fits in two programs, contact the Program Officers to discuss the best fit. Your work may be a candidate for co-review (i.e. review by more than one program).

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