How to Peer Review for an Academic Journal

As a peer reviewer, you’re expected to use your expertise to perform scientific quality control in a critical, yet fair manner.

Before accepting an invitation to review, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have an acceptable level of expertise in this field?
  • Do I have the time required to thoroughly review before the deadline?
  • Do I have any conflict(s) of interest to declare?

If you do not have the necessary expertise or time to review the manuscript, decline the invitation. If you decline, editors welcome recommendations of other possible reviewers. If you have any potential conflict(s) of interest (financial benefit, employment, relationship to the authors, direct competition with the authors), declare the conflict(s) to the editor. The editor will decide how to proceed.

Once you’ve accepted an invitation to review, remember what it’s like to be an author. As a reviewer, you will ultimately recommend revision, acceptance, or rejection of an article; however, the underlying goal is to improve the author’s submission through a quality review that’s constructive, specific, and timely. For the overall process, read the article at least twice, take a break, write your response, read the article again, review/edit your response, and submit your review.

Some journals provide reviewers with a rubric as a framework that highlights the important components of a quality manuscript. Here are some actions and questions for a quality review:

  • Assess the originality and relevance of the study. Are the questions important? Does the manuscript advance the field?
  • Scrutinize the references. Are all facts cited? Are the references current, applicable, and of reputable quality? Are important references missing?
  • Analyze the methods. Is the study design appropriate, ethical, and properly controlled/conducted? Could the study design be replicated? Could the study methods or design be improved?
  • Interpret the results. Is the analysis appropriate? Are the interpretations backed by data? Are the results accurate? Are tables or figures? Are the tables and figures meaningful?
  • Question the conclusions. Are the conclusions appropriate? Do the authors overstate any conclusions?
  • Weigh the language and structure without correcting these mistakes. Do the authors need help from an English language editor? Is the paper so poorly written or organized that it needs to be improved and resubmitted?

For more resources on conducting a peer review, see this blog post by a University of Texas researcher or this brochure by the Sense About Science group.

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