Reviewing Better

Peer review should be a fair process, enabling the sharing and communication of high quality ideas.

I have just received two poor quality reviews, and it has made me reflect that we do not talk enough on ‘what makes a good quality review’ and the training for new peer reviewers is happenstance at best.

Here I reflect on a few thoughts from my experiences reviewing in journal articles with the microscopy, materials and mechanics literature.

Aim of Peer Review

Peer review is a method of providing an external sanity check on work, and to enable the authors to receive high quality feedback. I walk into each review with the frame of mind that I would like to see this publication published, and I will go out of my way to provide specific critique, comments, or suggests that I hope can promote the work on its way to publication (either in this journal, or elsewhere) and to enable the Author’s to understand how someone else views their findings and arguments.

Key Pointers

  1. Remember that the authors, editors, and reviewers are people.
  2. Provide evidenced comments, using their manuscript and relevant literature to support your critique.
  3. Keep it specific and be concise.
  4. Do not be lazy. e.g. avoid generic statements, and find examples (such as for syntax, issues with figures or grammar pleast find examples, and make your comments valuable for the editors and authors).
  5. Structure your review, and comments in return, to facilitate the process. Keep arguments in order and keep them logical.
  6. If reviewing, make sure there are suggestions, questions, or comments that can be actioned.
  7. If responding to reviewers comments, address each comment (you may disagree with the comment, and support that by evidence or argument, if you disagree with the reviewer).
  8. Be efficient — hit deadlines, communicate delays, and feel free to contact the editor for advice.
  9. Review like you would be like to be reviewed.
  10. Be fair.
I’d rather leave gambling to establishments, rather than the dicey state of getting my work published in academic literature.

Peer review is a chance to see work ‘early on’ and to be forced to consider the a manuscript, and its context, properly. The culture of peer review should be considered a is a privilege both for the authors, who are getting a ‘free consult’ from an expert in their field, and for the reviewers to get to provide comments and suggestions that can shape the future of their field.

I value peer review as a gate-post that signs off a minimum standard of quality in the academic literature. Peer review is, and will remain, flawed. The alternatives are differently flawed. However, if we (as peers) act better in the process of peer review, perhaps we can help each other.

p.s. Minor edit to qualify comments about laziness — thanks to Claire Hansell for her comments that motivated this!



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