What You Should Not Do While Writing a Peer Review
Although there is plenty of advice available on peer reviewing for scientific journals, that advice tends to blend the discussion of what a reviewer should not do with that of what he or she should do to be successful. However, since committing a major faux pas in reviewing practice can wipe out all the positive effects of the effort you have put into reviewing and also prevent you from receiving future invitations from journal editors it seems a good idea to provide a clear list of activities and behaviours that should be strictly avoided.
• Although you should give serious thought to whether you can do a review or not, do not unnecessarily delay your response to an editor’s invitation to peer review an article. Time is pressing and the publication process takes long enough even when everyone is as efficient as possible.
• Once you accept an invitation, do not neglect to plan ahead so that you allow sufficient time to do the review well and send your report to the editor by the deadline. If at any point it becomes clear that you will not be able to do the review in time, do not delay informing the editor. He or she needs to know immediately.
• Even if you run short on time, do not rush your review and write an inadequate report. Reviews require considerable attention and reflection, and editors and authors require substance and specifics. Dashing off a short paragraph that simply says the paper is inadequate and should not be published is unhelpful and far from good enough.
• Most peer reviews are blind, which is to say that the author will not know the identity of the reviewer, but even if this policy is not in place, avoid personal remarks and personal details in your review report.
• Suggestions for improvements should certainly be offered, but within reason. Do not forget that you are the reviewer and critic, not the author or co-author of the paper.
• When you mention that scholarship is missing from the references, think about what is relevant to the research, not your own citation counts. It is unethical to use your position as a reviewer in order to force authors to cite your publications.
• Do not lose your objectivity. As a scientific reviewer you will read many papers that approach and discuss issues in ways that you might not, and even papers that come to conclusions that contradict your own research and writing. The question is whether the research is valid and the paper makes an impact, not whether you like that impact or not.
• Do not be harsh, mean spirited or dismissive in your comments, even when you think the research and paper poor. The author can still benefit from your comments, and you should never say that you will not bother reviewing an article because it is so poor. Basing your evaluation and recommendation on selfish or unethical reasons such as prejudices, personal grudges or a desire to dominate your field is always inappropriate.
• Do not close your review with vague or uncertain recommendations. The editor has sought your opinion and wants to know exactly what you think, so be clear and as decisive as possible.
• Never forget that you are also an author whose writing undergoes peer review. Although you must be sincere even when the news is bad, avoid saying anything in unhelpful or offensive ways, and remember that even a brief mention of a paper’s strengths will encourage the author to accept the more critical comments in constructive ways.
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