I was reviewing R03s – small grants that allegedly do not require preliminary data. I say allegedly, because while no data is needed to support the ideas, the PI needed to show that they could DO the work. Having a pub or data in the area, with the methods is the best way to do this.
A number of the proposals came from senior level postdocs – people who were either in “research asst prof” positions, or in other titles that were not pure TT Ast. Profs.
In general, such folks had lower grantsmanship than new Asst Profs. No one overtly said “this is right justified, or the font is too small”. (I have always maintained that those kind of things just add to the irritation level of reviewers, but will not get talked about).
The mistakes they made were along the lines of not addressing the previous review (that sunk more than one grant), not having methods that would generate the data to answer the questions being posed, not having “tight” hypotheses.
Whether this is a developmental process, ( ie the grants were not as good because they don’t know how, yet, and they will learn) or a selection process (the ones who were good got jobs) was not clear to me.
Bottom line to applicants: Get someone senior to review your grant, even if not in your exact area.