How To Respond When a Journal Editor Asks You To Do a Peer Review

How To Respond When a Journal Editor Asks You To Do a Peer Review | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
You just received a request from the editor of a reputable scientific journal asking if you would be willing to review a paper submitted for publication. The request has taken you by surprise. You certainly were not expecting it, and although you have read peer reviews on your own writing, you have never done one before. How should you respond?
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Well, as a sound beginning, try to override any emotional responses you may experience. You might feel flattered or even overjoyed by the request or you may feel somewhat frightened or intimidated by the thought of assessing another scholar’s writing. These are not reasons for accepting or declining the offer, however, and feeling a little nervous when you start to do peer reviews is far from unusual. In fact, it will help you focus on doing an excellent job.

Time is a serious consideration, however, so if you think that you simply will not have the time to do the review thoroughly and well by the deadline indicated by the editor, you will need to decline the offer. Do give this some thought, however. If you decline this invitation, the editor may not ask you again, so it might be well worth making the time. Keep in mind that a high-quality review does take a considerable amount of time to complete and that dashing if off quickly is not acceptable. You need to be engaged and interested and willing to give the paper and the research it presents a close reading and thoughtful reflection. You will also need time to write a clear and helpful review for the editor and author. The time you invest will be well repaid by valuable experience, contributions to knowledge and benefits to your career, but if it truly is impossible, let the editor know right away and suggest, if you can, an alternate reviewer so that the publication process will be delayed as little as possible.
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Perhaps the most important question is whether you are the right person to do the review. The editor seems to think so and the author may have recommended you as a possible reviewer, but the final decision is, of course, your own. You should only go ahead with the review if the article lies within the scope of your expertise so that you can effectively assess the research and offer an informed critical review. You need to be familiar with current research and previous publications in the area, and you also need to be free of any conflicts of interest in relation to the paper. In most cases the author’s name will be known to you, so if that author is your research partner (or nemesis) or your ex-wife, that would constitute a conflict of interest and be a valid reason for declining the invitation.
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Unless you are already very familiar with the journal, it may be a good idea to learn a little more about it, its scope and aims and its peer review process. The editor may have provided some guidance along with the request, and most journals offer a great deal of information online. You will certainly need to educate yourself about the journal if you decide to do the review, but if you are uncertain whether to accept or decline, a little more information never hurts, and knowing what the aims are and what you are expected to do will certainly help you make a wise decision.

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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.

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