To review, or not to review: That is the question
We’ve all been there. An email arrives from a journal editor inviting us to undertake peer review on a paper that’s just been submitted to their journal. As a research academic, you’ve been selected by the editor as a potential candidate for peer review.
How does the editor’s request to undertake peer review make you feel? Honored? Scared? Intimidated? Out of your depth?
Don’t worry: All of these feelings are completely normal, especially if you are at the start of your career and perhaps have not had the chance to perform any, or many, peer reviews in the past.
Our job at ReviewerCredits is to help: Our training courses and content are aimed at supporting researchers with peer review, helping you to understand what’s required, how to write an effective peer review report on an academic paper or book, and why this might actually be a good thing for your future career development.
Managing peer review jitters
Feeling scared or anxious about performing a peer review is common, especially if you’re new to the process or lack experience. However, peer reviews are an essential part of academic or professional development, and it’s important to overcome your fears and take part in the process.
Here are some steps you can take to manage your anxiety and perform a peer review effectively:
- Understand why you are being asked to perform a peer review: Remember that the main purpose of peer review is to ‘quality control’ published academic literature. Articles are considered ‘usable’, ‘citable’, ‘worthwhile’ components of the academic oeuvre if they have been successfully peer reviewed by other competent, respected experts. So: There’s something to feel good about. The journal editor would not have selected you if she or he did not think you were a ‘competent, respected expert’. That’s always good to counter imposter syndrome. It’s also important to remember that a secondary purpose of peer review is to provide constructive feedback to improve the quality of the work being reviewed. It’s not about tearing someone down or being overly critical. Your role is to offer insightful comments and suggestions.
- Familiarize yourself with journal guidelines: It’s important to read and understand the guidelines or instructions provided by the journal that’s written to you for their peer review process. Journals may ask for you to perform peer review in slightly different ways. This will help you understand the expectations and structure your review accordingly.
- Take your time: Don’t rush through the review. Take your time to read the work thoroughly and make thoughtful observations. Break down the review into smaller sections or aspects to make it more manageable.
- Start with positive feedback: Begin your review by highlighting the strengths and positive aspects of the work. This sets a constructive and encouraging tone, and it helps balance any critical feedback you might need to provide later.
- Be specific and constructive: When pointing out areas for improvement or offering suggestions, be specific and provide examples to support your comments. Focus on the content, clarity, methodology, or any other relevant aspects, and provide actionable recommendations.
- Use respectful language: While it’s important to provide honest feedback, remember to use respectful and professional language. Avoid personal attacks or derogatory remarks. Frame your comments in a way that encourages improvement and growth.
- Seek guidance if needed: If you’re unsure about certain aspects of the review or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the journal editor for clarification. It’s better to seek guidance from the journal editor and ensure you’re on the right track. What you are not able to do though is show the paper you are working on to any one else: This would be a breach of ethical guidelines, unless you’ve checked this first with the editor. If in doubt: Ask the editor. We are here at ReviewerCredits to answer any process-related questions you may have.
- Remember that peer review is a learning opportunity: Peer reviews are not just for the benefit of the authors; they also offer a chance for you to learn and improve your own skills. Embrace the opportunity to enhance your critical thinking, writing, and analytical abilities.
- Review your own work: Before submitting your review, take a moment to review your own comments and suggestions. Ensure they are fair, reasonable, and align with the purpose of the peer review process.
- Practice and gain experience: The more peer reviews you perform, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become. Practice is key to improving your skills, so embrace opportunities to participate in reviews whenever possible.
Remember, peer reviews are a collaborative effort aimed at advancing knowledge and improving the quality of research or work. By providing thoughtful and constructive feedback, you contribute to the academic or professional community. Over time, your confidence in performing peer reviews will grow, and you’ll become more comfortable with the process.
We have a number of resources on the ReviewerCredits website to help with the peer review process.