Do’s and Don'ts of the Peer Review Process

By Samhar Almomani
By eContent Pro on Jun 15, 2022

Scientific research requires a rigorous evaluation and a fair judgment before being officially published in journals. For the science presented to be trustworthy, many people rely on the peer review process to ensure that experienced, knowledgeable people have reviewed the work and judged it as scientifically sound before its publication. Although the process, led by humans, cannot be perfect, it provides us the assurance that people with the intention of expanding the field of knowledge have found this work to be valuable and reliable.

“There are multiple elements of a high-quality review,” said Dr. Maurine Neiman (2022), Preprint and Senior Editor of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

First, the review should be reasonably objective. Second, the review should be thorough. . . . Third, the review should provide a combination of appropriately positive and critical components, and constructive suggestions accompanying the critiques. . . . Fourth, the review should acknowledge components of the manuscript that the reviewer might not be able to objectively or rigorously evaluate. Finally, the review should provide a realistic perspective on what constitutes a useful contribution to scientific literature, in general, and with respect to the focal journal.

As an expert in your field, and as you publish more work, you are expected to receive more reviewing requests. Although this may seem unnecessary, especially for early career researchers, Dr. Neiman (2022) points out the importance of participating in the peer review process early on.

I think that early-career researchers should make an effort to engage in peer review early and often because reviewing is the best way to learn how the peer-review process works and provides valuable insight in how best to craft a scientific manuscript. The best way for junior researchers to start reviewing is often to team up with a graduate or postdoc advisor or other senior mentors.

With that being said, the peer review process may seem scary and confusing at first. Even for researchers who have participated in the process a few times, there are a few do’s and don'ts recommended to ensure a smooth peer review process.

Scholarly Reviewers discussing at a table

The Do’s of Peer Review

  • It is important to read the manuscript in its entirety before starting the evaluation, since you would want to be aware of the main points and where the manuscript is headed. This will help make it clear to you what the manuscript aims to accomplish and whether the introduction and the sections leading up to the results accomplish that goal (McCarthy, 2017). Sometimes, this will help you spot sections that can be confusing and ensure that the plan follows a logical structure. Reading the entire draft before evaluation also helps you determine whether the language used is appropriate for the audience it was intended for (University of Oklahoma, 2019).
  • Instead of focusing on whether or not you agree with the plan, make sure to look into whether the plan is appropriately supported in the draft. This is also why it is required that you be scientific in your reviewing. Although you will more often than not be asked to review manuscripts within your own fields, sometimes you may be asked to review drafts relating to broader topics. Even though you might not have the expertise in that field, make sure to maintain scientific rigor by reading the plan, conclusions, and all parts of the draft critically and dissect the analysis process to ensure accuracy. In the case that you find scientific inaccuracies, alert the journal editor and recommend whether the manuscript should be accepted or redirected elsewhere.
  • Instead of being broad in your comments, talk about specific examples of strengths and weaknesses. Reviewing a manuscript is an important aspect of academic work, and it requires well-constructed analysis. It is important to back up your suggestions and opinions with concrete evidence and examples from the draft. Some major points to look out for are the strengths of the argument, brevity, and the overall consistency in the manuscript.
  • Try to be balanced when commenting on the strengths, weaknesses, and problem areas of the draft. Do not just focus on the shortcomings of the draft. Also focus on what makes it an important piece of work. Focus a good amount of the commentary on the strengths of the work. When you come upon a part of the draft that you think needs revision, frame the suggestion in the form of a question, not a demand. People generally respond better to helpful recommendations than critical demands. For example, you might say, “Would it be helpful to add an additional interpretation for these conclusions?” instead of “I think this is a wrong way to interpret these results” (McCarthy, 2017).
  • One suggestion that should be followed during all of the above is to treat others' work as you would want your own work to be treated. The main goal of peer reviewing is to encourage further writing. Framing your criticism positively empowers authors to take your advice and build on your suggestions to develop their work. It is preferable to begin with a positive note and then move on to constructive criticism. The best kind of criticism is action-oriented, giving the writers a chance to follow steps to improve their manuscript.
frustrated writer with head in hands

The Don'ts of Peer Review

  • Focus on the bigger image rather than criticizing every tiny detail. Keep an open mind that everyone has their own style and you won’t always agree with them about their approach. You should allow the writer to publish the work as they would like to publish it, within reason, and not rewrite their work for them (McCarthy, 2017).
  • Try to avoid making vague comments that are not confined to mechanical details. It is not helpful to simply make unclear suggestions without providing guidance on how to improve the writer’s manuscript (University of Oklahoma, 2019).
  • Make sure to meet the deadlines set by the journal’s editors, as timely submission of the peer review is paramount to the review’s success. Before you accept an invitation, check the set deadline and stay organized to meet that deadline. Remember, it is important for all of us to get our work out to the public as soon as possible (McCarthy, 2017).
  • Finally, do not discuss the work you’re reviewing before it is published. It is part of a “sacred trust,” and everything is expected to remain confidential until final publication.

With all that in mind, it is clear that the peer review process is more than simply helping others. It’s about helping elevate innovations in science by making sure that they are scientifically sound. The public places trust in publications, assuming that all the work published is trustworthy. This can only happen when peer reviewers do their job to the extent of their abilities and ensure quality and accuracy. eContent Pro makes sure that the peer review runs smoothly by offering copy editing and proofreading services before you submit your work to minimize recommendations about wording or grammar. With the help of eContent Pro, you’ll be able to add to the vast and expanding field of science.

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