When you first receive the manuscript it is recommended that you read it through once and focus on the wider context of the research.
Ask questions such as:
- What research question(s) do the authors address? Do they make a good argument for why a question is important?
- What methods do the authors use to answer the question? Are the methods the most current available or is there a newer more powerful method available? Does their overall strategy seem like a good one, or are there major problems with their methods? Are there other experiments that would greatly improve the quality of the manuscript? If so, are they necessary to make the work publishable? Would any different data help confirm the presented results and strengthen the paper?
- Were the results analyzed and interpreted correctly? Does the evidence support the authors’ conclusions?
- Will the results advance your field in some way? If so, how much? Does the importance of the advance match the standards of the journal?
- Will other researchers be interested in reading the study? If so, what types of researchers? Do they match the journal’s audience? Does the manuscript take account of international and cultural differences? Is there an alternative readership that the paper would be more suitable for? For example, a study about renal disease in children might be suitable for either a pediatrics-centric journal or one that is targeted at nephrologists.
- Does the manuscript fit together well? Does it clearly describe what was done, why it was done, and what the results mean?
- Is the manuscript written well and easy to read? If the manuscript has many mistakes, you can suggest that the authors have it checked by a native English speaker. If the language quality is so poor that it is difficult to understand, you can ask that the manuscript be corrected before you review it.
After your first reading, write one or two paragraphs summarizing what the manuscript is about and how it adds to current knowledge in your field. Mention the strengths of the manuscript, but also any problems that make you believe it should not be published, or that would need to be corrected to make it publishable. These summary paragraphs are the start of your review, and they will demonstrate to the editor and authors that you have read the manuscript carefully. They will also help the editor, who may not be a specialist in this particular field, understand the wider context of the research. Finally, these paragraphs will highlight the manuscript’s main messages that will be taken away by readers.You can then proceed in evaluating the individual sections of the paper.
Title, abstract, and keywords
The title, abstract and keywords are items that will help other researchers to find the published paper and decide if they will read further. Abstracts must be a clear, short summary of the full manuscript. Researchers want their work to be read, so it is important that their abstract be interesting and hold the reader’s attention. Some questions to ask yourself about the title, abstract and keywords are:
- Does the title accurately say what the study was about? If not, can you suggest a different title?
- Does the abstract effectively summarize the manuscript? Could the abstract be understood by a researcher outside your specialty?
- Does it include enough information to stand alone? Does the abstract contain information that is unnecessary?
- Is there any information in the abstract that is not in the main text of the manuscript?
- If present, will the key words help readers to find the article? Are they specific, and do they represent the manuscript content?
Like the title and abstract, the Introduction tells the reader what the manuscript will be about. However, unlike the abstract, the Introduction gives the background for the research question.While reviewing the Introduction, ask the following questions:
- Does it explain the background well enough that researchers outside your specialty can understand it?
- Does it accurately describe current knowledge related to the research question?Does the Introduction contain unnecessary information? Can it be made more concise?
- Are the reasons for performing the study clear?
- Are the aims of the study clearly defined and consistent with the rest of the manuscript? Does it introduce the research’s theoretical framework?
- Have the authors missed any key references that would be important for a reader to access? Make suggestions for additional, relevant references if necessary.
Materials and methods
The study’s methods are one of the most important parts used to judge the overall quality of the paper. In addition the Methods section should give readers enough information so that they can repeat the experiments. Reviewers should look for potential sources of bias in the way the study was designed and carried out, and for places where more explanation is needed.
The specific types of information in a Methods section will vary from field to field and from study to study. However, some general rules for Methods sections are:
- It should be clear from the Methods section how all of the data in the Results section were obtained.
- The study system should be clearly described. In medicine, for example, researchers need to specify the number of study subjects; how, when, and where the subjects were recruited, and that the study obtained appropriate ‘informed consent’ documents; and what criteria subjects had to meet to be included in the study.
- In most cases, the experiments should include appropriate controls or comparators. The conditions of the controls should be specified.
- The outcomes of the study should be defined, and the outcome measures should be objectively validated.
- The methods used to analyze the data must be statistically sound.
- For qualitative studies, an established qualitative research method (e.g. grounded theory is often used in sociology) must be used as appropriate for the study question.
- If the authors used a technique from a published study, they should include a citation and a summary of the procedure in the text. The method also needs to be appropriate to the present experiment.
- All materials and instruments should be identified, including the supplier’s name and location. For example, “Tests were conducted with a Vulcanizer 2.0 (XYZ Instruments, Mumbai, India).”
- The Methods section should not have information that belongs in another section (such as the Introduction or Results)
You may suggest if additional experiments would greatly improve the quality of the manuscript. Your suggestions should be in line with the study’s aims. Remember that almost any study could be strengthened by further experiments, so only suggest further work if you believe that the manuscript is not publishable without it.