A Constructive Approach to the Challenging Task of Peer Reviewing | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
You have just decided to accept the invitation of a journal editor to peer review a scientific article. The paper is well within the field of your active research and publication, so you feel confident about the material and your ability to judge whether the research is sound and well presented. However, while you have read peer reviews of your own work, you have never written one about someone else’s work, and you are determined to start off on the right foot and do an excellent job. A little general advice about how to approach the task will no doubt prove helpful.
Preparation is essential. As Ben Franklin said, ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,’ and this is certainly true of peer reviewing. Your first concern should be to learn as much as you can about the journal, its scope, its aims, the kind of articles it publishes, the readers it attracts and the instructions it provides for authors. This information will help you determine whether the paper you are reviewing meets the expectations and needs of the editor.
You should also understand your personal role in the peer-reviewing process. Generally speaking, reviewers ensure that the research published by scholarly journals is valid, significant and appropriate, but many journals will have detailed guidance or instructions for peer reviewers. Some will even draw your attention to issues of particular concern to the journal or put together a list of questions for reviewers to keep in mind as they read and reflect. To write a review that will impress the editor and help the author, you need to educate yourself regarding exactly what is expected of you and make sure that all the documents you may need while you work are at hand.
High-quality peer reviews take time, reflection and still more time and reflection. Given that you accepted the invitation, you must believe that you have enough time to complete the task thoroughly before the deadline. However, the review, especially if it is your first one, may prove more time-consuming than you anticipate. The best approach tends to require time for thinking between reading the paper and writing the review report, and then more time for reflection between writing the report and finalising it with a clear recommendation regarding publication. The process should not be rushed. Remember that a peer review should contain reasons for your comments and suggestions for improvements as well as criticism. It will also need to be well written and carefully organised in order to be useful to the editor and the author.
Be aware of the fact that the paper and any associated materials sent to you must be treated confidentially and so must your review unless the editor or author indicates otherwise. With the exception of any assistance you may receive from the editor, you will therefore be on your own while working. Be prepared to rely on your own knowledge and experience, and to maintain an objective and supportive attitude while writing your review. It is important to remain positive, even when the paper you are assessing is poor or when it is very good but contradicts your own work in troubling ways. You are acting as a kind of consultant or teacher to assist both the author and the editor, and the progress of knowledge in your area will be best served by expertise and integrity. The final decision about publication will rest with the editor, but what you say and how you say it can make an enormous difference in all the right ways if you do your job well.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.