My application to the Office of Digital Humanities wasn’t funded, what’s next? 

January 22, 2021

After several months of waiting for that email notification, you learn that the NEH did not select your application for funding. You are extremely disappointed and wonder if you should apply again, and if so, how to go about revising and resubmitting.  

For every round of grant announcements, there are far more rejected applicants than awardees, so remember you are not alone. In fact, you are in very good company. The funding ratio for the Digital Humanities Advancement Grants (DHAGs) announced in December 2020 was at 10%.  

When reading the big list of new NEH awardees, what you can’t see is that many of those individuals and project teams did not receive a grant on their first try. Indeed, 38% of December 2020’s DHAG awardees had received rejections from the NEH in the past year.  

Below are a few tips for moving forward after receiving a rejection from the ODH, intended to help you rethink your application and project design for another round.  

Request Evaluator Comments 

Soon after you receive your notification email, request anonymized peer review evaluations by emailing the Office of Digital Humanities (@email).  

Please note, we are a small office and so this process can take a few weeks because of the volume of requests. And don’t forget to include your application number in your email! 

Evaluations of grants submitted to the ODH typically reflect feedback from 3-5 experts in digital humanities, representing a wide spectrum of the field. Reviewers read 10-20 applications individually, meet virtually to discuss the applications with program staff, and then finalize their evaluations. The feedback you receive will reflect this long and careful process. 

Read Evaluator Comments More Than Once 

Review the comments when you are really ready to receive them. This may mean reading them quickly once they arrive in your inbox, feeling annoyed, and then returning to them the next day when you’re ready to read them alongside the application you submitted.  

Ask yourself: Have your evaluators identified some issues that you had not considered? Was there something about your project that reviewers did not understand? Were you unclear in sections where you now could add more detail to help the evaluators? Did you address all of required elements of the application? Was your budget reasonable for the activities proposed? Did reviewers recommend that you investigate a different NEH grant program?  

Spend some time analyzing and reviewing comments and the ratings, much like you would after receiving readers’ reports on an article or manuscript. Note where reviewers are consistent in their praise, meaning there is less work in certain areas, and focus on where they are consistent in their critiques.  

Peer reviewers, however, do not always agree on strengths and weaknesses of applications. Highlight those places of disagreement for discussion with your colleagues, and perhaps with ODH program staff.   

Consider your Options  

Ask yourself some difficult questions: Are you prepared to spend multiple weeks/months revising this application in pursuit of this funding opportunity? Might there be smaller or less competitive sources of funding to pursue for your project or to test out your ideas?  

Sometimes the revisions required to turn your project into a competitive application will not serve your bigger goals. On the other hand, sometimes a rejected application only needs a few minor edits to become fundable. It's always worth taking the time to make sure that a revision is a good course of action. 

Schedule a Call with ODH Program Staff 

If you are unsure whether to re-apply, or how best to incorporate reviewer feedback into a new application, contact the ODH. One of our program staff members will be able to review the comments with you and help to identify areas that might need the most attention in revising the application or in the project design. Please remember that staff’s comments are not part of the formal review process and have no bearing on its final outcome. 

If appropriate, ODH staff may also direct you to another grant program at the NEH that might be a better fit to fund your digital project. (Read this blog post we have created to help direct applications to the right NEH grant program for funding digital projects.)  

Revising and Resubmitting 

When you revise an unfunded application and resubmit it for a new deadline, it will be reviewed by a completely new set of peer reviewers who will not know that you submitted in the past.  

You do not need to state that your application is a resubmission. The peer reviewers will not have access to your prior application or reviews. 

It is a fresh start, and we encourage all applicants to make use of the materials available for writing strong applications: 

  • Submit a draft before the program’s deadline (check program pages and NOFO for dates). 

We hope these tips will encourage you to consider all options available to you after learning that your ODH application was not funded.  And if you are ready to discuss your options with the ODH, please get in touch about the possibility of revising and resubmitting your application.