What Does a High-Quality Peer Review of a Journal Article Contain? | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
The answer to this question is far from simple. The policies and processes of peer review differ from journal to journal and editor to editor, so there will be variations. In order to find out exactly what will be expected when you are reviewing a paper for a particular journal, you will have to take a look at the information provided for peer reviewers in each case. Generally speaking, however, there is a standard way to organise a good review of a scientific article. Most journal editors want to see three types of information in a high-quality review report, and these can be presented in three sections for clarity.
The opening section of a review report should contain your general impression and assessment of the paper. A brief summary in your own words of the research and findings will let the editor know that you understand the material and the author know where his or her explanation could be clearer. You should indicate whether you think the research is sound and fits within the scope of the journal. Is the study interesting and important? Is its original contribution a small one or does it constitute a significant shift in theory or approach? Is the paper well written and carefully organised to enhance comprehension of the content? Be courteous and constructive, but honest and critical as well, and make sure that you explain the reasoning behind your comments. Remember that both the editor and the author need to understand your criticism and make good use of it. If you suspect plagiarism or any other form of misconduct, be sure to mention that as well.
The next section of your review report should address specific concerns and highlight deficiencies that must be addressed in order to make the paper publishable. Major concerns such as the appropriateness of the methodology, the interpretation of findings and the overall validity of the research should come first. It is your job to determine whether the research was conducted properly, and your job also to make suggestions for improvements. Minor concerns should follow, so this would be the place to point out misnumbered tables or spelling errors. There is at times a fine line between major and minor concerns, however, so if there are many mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation, this would constitute a major quality problem and should probably be mentioned in the first section as well. It can be helpful to move through the paper section by section, from abstract to reference list, as you comment on each type of problem, and do not forget to mention any missing sources that really should be considered. Be sure to distinguish factual errors from your preferences and opinions and to point out anything that does not adhere to the journal guidelines. Be specific and precise as you work so that it is always clear exactly what you mean, and remember that numbering your comments can make the revision process more efficient.
Finally, you will need to provide a recommendation regarding publication. It is best if this is as straightforward as possible in recommending rejection, acceptance without revisions, or the need for revisions whether major or minor before the paper can be seriously considered for publication. Be sure to mention as well whether you would be willing to review the revised article or not.
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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.