1- Before you begin
Before you accept or decline an invitation to review, consider the following questions:
- Does the article match your area of expertise? Only accept if you feel you can provide a high-quality review.
- Do you have a potential conflict of interest? Disclose this to the editor when you respond.
- Do you have time? Reviewing can be a lot of work – before you commit, make sure you can meet the deadline.
Respond to the invitation as soon as you can (even if it is to decline) – a delay in your decision slows down the review process and means more waiting for the author. If you do decline the invitation, it would be helpful if you could provide suggestions for alternative reviewers.
2- Managing your review
If you accept, you must treat the materials you receive as confidential documents. This means you can’t share them with anyone without prior authorization from the editor. Since peer review is confidential, you also must not share information about the review with anyone without permission from the editors and authors.
When you sit down to write the review, make sure you familiarize yourself with any journal-specific guidelines (these will be noted in the journal’s guide for authors available on the Author Guidelines page.
First, read the article. You might consider spot-checking major issues by choosing which section to read first. Below we offer some tips about handling specific parts of the paper.
If the manuscript you are reviewing is reporting an experiment, check the methods section first. The following cases are considered major flaws and should be flagged:
- Unsound methodology
- Discredited method
- Missing processes known to be influential on the area of reported research
- A conclusion drawn in contradiction to the statistical or qualitative evidence reported in the manuscript
For analytical papers examine the sampling report, which is mandated in time-dependent studies. For qualitative research make sure that a systematic data analysis is presented and sufficient descriptive elements with relevant quotes from interviews are listed in addition to the author’s narrative.
Research data and visualizations
Once you are satisfied that the methodology is sufficiently robust, examine any data in the form of figures, tables, or images. Authors may add research data, including data visualizations, to their submission to enable readers to interact and engage more closely with their research after publication. Please be aware that links to data might therefore be present in the submission files. These items should also receive your attention during the peer review process. Manuscripts may also contain database identifiers or accession numbers (e.g. genes).
Critical issues in research data, which are considered to be major flaws can be related to insufficient data points, statistically non-significant variations and unclear data tables.
Experiments including patient or animal data should properly be documented. The journal requires ethical approval by the author’s host organization.
If you don’t spot any major flaws, take a break from the manuscript, giving you time to think. Consider the article from your own perspective. When you sit down to write the review, again make sure you familiarize yourself with guidelines.
3. Structuring your review
Your review will help the editor decide whether or not to publish the article. It will also aid the author and allow them to improve their manuscript. Giving your overall opinion and general observations of the article is essential. Your comments should be courteous and constructive, and should not include any ad hominem remarks or personal details including your name (unless the journal you are invited to review for employs open peer review).
Providing insight into any deficiencies is important. You should explain and support your judgement so that both editors and authors are able to fully understand the reasoning behind your comments. You should indicate whether your comments are your own opinion or are reflected by the data and evidence.
- Summarize the article in a short paragraph. This shows the editor you have read and understood the research.
- Give your main impressions of the article, including whether it is novel and interesting, whether it has a sufficient impact and adds to the knowledge base.
- Ideally when commenting, do so using short, clearly-defined paragraphs and make it easy for the editor and author to see what section you’re referring to.
- Assess whether the article conforms to the journal-specific instructions (e.g. the guide for authors).
- Give specific comments and suggestions about e.g. title, abstract: Does the title accurately reflect the content? Is the abstract complete and stand-alone?
- Check the graphical abstracts and/or highlights.
- Keep your comments strictly factual and don’t speculate on the motives of the author(s)
- Carefully review the methodology, statistical errors, results, conclusion/discussion, and references.
- Consider feedback on the presentation of data in the article, the sustainability and reproducibility of any methodology, the analysis of any data and whether the conclusions are supported by the data.
- Raise your suspicions with the editor if you suspect plagiarism, fraud or have other ethical concerns, providing as much detail as possible. See the COPE guidelines for more information.
- Be aware of the possibility for bias in your review. Unconscious bias can lead us all to make questionable decisions which impact negatively on the academic publishing process.
- Feel the need to comment on the spelling, grammar or layout of the article. If the research is sound, but let down by poor language; recommend to the editor that the author(s) have their paper language edited.
- Make ad-hominem comments.
- Dismiss alternative viewpoints or theories that might conflict with your own opinions on a topic: when reviewing, maintain an open perspective.
- Share the review or information about the review with anyone without the agreement of the editors and authors involved. According to COPE guidelines, reviewers must treat any manuscripts they are asked to review as confidential documents. This applies both during and after the publication process unless the journal employs open peer review.
- Suggest that the author includes citations to your (or your associates’) work unless for genuine scientific reasons and not with the intention of increasing citation counts or enhancing the visibility of your work (or that of your associates).
4. After your review
Once you have delivered your review, you might want to make a certificate.
Do not forget that, even after finalizing your review, you must treat the article and any linked files or data like confidential documents. This means you must not share them or information about the review with anyone without prior authorization from the editor.
Finally, we take the opportunity to thank you sincerely on behalf of the journal, editors and author(s) for the time you have taken to give your valuable input to the article.