How to become a reviewer and be a good one
- Why become a reviewer?
- How to be a reviewer?
- How can you become a good reviewer?
- Use objective expertise
- Build your timeliness
- Work on constructive commenting
Why become a reviewer?
Peer review is at the heart of high-quality publishing. Consider being a reviewer a way to help advance your field of interest and provide constructive feedback to your fellow authors. Due to the huge increase in manuscripts submitted for publication, reviewers are quickly becoming a valuable professional figures.
If you are an author who benefited from the peer review process you should consider getting yourself involved and provide valuable comments to fellow authors. You should see becoming a reviewer as a professional responsibility.
How to be a reviewer?
Make sure your personal profile page (whether institutional, on LinkedIn, on ORCID, on ResearchGate and other similar services) is kept up to date with your areas of interest and research, making sure you add relevant keywords, including your contact details.
How you are invited to review depends largely on the journal, so always look out for guidelines on the journals’ website. Some publications require a formal appointment, others welcome an independent approach. In this case, get in touch with the editor (or editors) and let them know you are willing to help. If you are a young researcher, let senior scientists know you are willing to participate in peer reviews, so they can suggest your name; as a young trainee, ask your adviser to involve you in peer review under their supervision.
If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to participate in open peer review, or other new peer review workflow models, go for it and explore new formats. Open review is designed to increase transparency in peer review and give power back to the community by opening up an otherwise closed process.
Peer review is often considered an unpaid academic duty. However, it is also a great way to keep up-to-date with the developments in your field and allows you to be an actor in your community. In any case, peer reviewing requires expertise and time and, even if you are paid in the typical sense, there are ways to get visibility and acknowledgement for your work. Explore ways in which you can earn credits for your activity as peer reviewer and join all services available today.
How can you become a good reviewer?
Use objective expertise
When you are invited to review a manuscript, editors count on your knowledge of a specific topic. The first point to consider, therefore, is that you can provide valuable feedback with competence to your fellow authors. If you are not familiar with the topic discussed, you should make a point immediately to alert the editor and decline the invitation. Agree to review only if you have the required expertise to evaluate the work and can be objective and unbiased in your comments.
Once you have accepted the commitment, dedicate time to it and do your best to point out flaws in the manuscript, but also highlight good points. Peer reviewing takes valuable time, so reserve sufficient time to create and shape comments which will help authors to improve their work. Peer reviewers are primarily expected to judge the validity of the study, its technical soundness and that claims presented are supported by valid data. Additionally reviewers are asked to evaluate the results and interpretations reported in the paper. Each journal will define what is expected from its reviewers, therefore you should always read the guidelines provided and any reviewing instructions received.
Build your timeliness
There is a very wide agreement that one of the key qualities in peer review is timeliness.
Some authors have been working for months on a peer review ready manuscript so do not keep them waiting longer than necessary and remember how you would be eagerly waiting for a review report on your own work…
Unless you have time to commit to the peer review, do not accept the task.
Upon invitation, check your pending engagements and reply as soon as possible: this will also clear your inbox. If you cannot make it, hit the decline link and consider suggesting an alternative colleague for the editor. This will be greatly appreciated by the editor, and especially so from younger journals with a smaller peer reviewers panel. If you take on this new engagement, make a note in your calendar about deadlines. Journals will send you notifications and reminders before your review is due, so try and consider them as a tool to keep you on track, rather than an annoying clutter of your inbox…
Should anything crop up in your schedule and delay your report, make sure you ask for a deadline extension. This will also help the editors to keep authors up to date with the peer review process of their work.
Editors and journals will be grateful not only by your expert comments, but also for your understanding of their need to keep a steady manuscript flow.
Work on constructive commenting
The main purpose of peer review is to improve author’s competence and skills. The main purpose of the peer review process is to provide fair feedback to fellow authors. Keep that at the heart of your review, as the ultimate goal is to make your research field stronger.
Constructive feedback has been proven to be an effective way to improve research, even in case of negative comments or rejections. Always bear in mind that a journal is soliciting your comments for your expertise.
We like to recommend that reviewers should be polite towards the authors and not make offensive criticism, even in case of really poor work. Their next efforts will greatly benefit from your comments., if they are presented in a constructive way.
A great attention will be devoted – on your part – of the manuscript presentation and readability. However, bear in mind that many authors may write in a second language. You should focus on the contents of the manuscript, rather that its form: it is not your task (generally speaking) to copy-edit a manuscript or correct spelling errors, but pointing out a lacking language is important for the authors.
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A step-by-step guide to peer review: a template for patients and novice reviewers. BMC Health and Care Informatics (2021)
How to Write a Peer Review for a Clinical Case. JACC: case reports (2021)
How to be a good reviewer. The Scholarly kitchen (2019).
What makes a great peer reviewer? Tips from Nature Research editors (2016)
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