Summary statements from the Nursing Research Study Section, Division of Research Grants, NIH, between October, 1986 and June, 1988 were used to identify reasons for recommending approval or disapproval of grant applications with RO1 and R29 activity codes. The 917 comments (25 +/- 4 per critique), sorted into one of nine categories (Aims, Significance, Investigator, Budget, Resources, Design, Sample, Techniques, Data Analysis) for analysis, were classified as Strengths (positive comments) or Weaknesses (negative comments). The weaknesses of approved applications were confined mostly to the categories of Design and Techniques. Disapproved applications had few strengths and many weaknesses in Design, Sample, Techniques, and Data Analysis. Critiques of First Award (R29) and traditional research project grant applications (RO1) were similar. The approved applications addressed meaningful problems, had well-synthesized literature reviews, and were solvable by available techniques. The research plans were consonant with stated aims, and the methods sections reflected understanding of the principles underlying the techniques to be used. A supportive environment and adequate research resources, including access to the study population were common to these applications. Disapproved applications provided poor synthesis of the literature, methods inconsistent with the aims, and often reflected inadequate understanding of techniques to be used.