Before you accept or decline an invitation to review, consider the following questions:
Respond to the invitation as soon as you can (even if it is to decline) – a delay in your decision slows down the review process and means more waiting for the author. If you do decline the invitation, it would be helpful if you could provide suggestions for alternative reviewers.
If you accept, you must treat the materials you receive as confidential documents. This means you can’t share them with anyone without prior authorization from the editor. Since peer review is confidential, you also must not share information about the review with anyone without permission from the editors and authors.
When you sit down to write the review, make sure you familiarize yourself with any journal-specific guidelines (these will be noted in the journal’s guide for authors available on the Author Guidelines page.
First, read the article. You might consider spot-checking major issues by choosing which section to read first. Below we offer some tips about handling specific parts of the paper.
If the manuscript you are reviewing is reporting an experiment, check the methods section first. The following cases are considered major flaws and should be flagged:
For analytical papers examine the sampling report, which is mandated in time-dependent studies. For qualitative research make sure that a systematic data analysis is presented and sufficient descriptive elements with relevant quotes from interviews are listed in addition to the author’s narrative.
Once you are satisfied that the methodology is sufficiently robust, examine any data in the form of figures, tables, or images. Authors may add research data, including data visualizations, to their submission to enable readers to interact and engage more closely with their research after publication. Please be aware that links to data might therefore be present in the submission files. These items should also receive your attention during the peer review process. Manuscripts may also contain database identifiers or accession numbers (e.g. genes).
Critical issues in research data, which are considered to be major flaws can be related to insufficient data points, statistically non-significant variations and unclear data tables.
Experiments including patient or animal data should properly be documented. The journal requires ethical approval by the author’s host organization.
If you don’t spot any major flaws, take a break from the manuscript, giving you time to think. Consider the article from your own perspective. When you sit down to write the review, again make sure you familiarize yourself with guidelines.
Your review will help the editor decide whether or not to publish the article. It will also aid the author and allow them to improve their manuscript. Giving your overall opinion and general observations of the article is essential. Your comments should be courteous and constructive, and should not include any ad hominem remarks or personal details including your name (unless the journal you are invited to review for employs open peer review).
Providing insight into any deficiencies is important. You should explain and support your judgement so that both editors and authors are able to fully understand the reasoning behind your comments. You should indicate whether your comments are your own opinion or are reflected by the data and evidence.
Once you have delivered your review, you might want to make a certificate.
Do not forget that, even after finalizing your review, you must treat the article and any linked files or data like confidential documents. This means you must not share them or information about the review with anyone without prior authorization from the editor.
Finally, we take the opportunity to thank you sincerely on behalf of the journal, editors and author(s) for the time you have taken to give your valuable input to the article.