How to peer review

Author tutorials 

Evaluating the discussion and conclusion

In the Discussion and Conclusion sections, authors should interpret the results, place them in context of previous findings, and explain what they mean for future research, as well as for possible real-life applications. If the author has not made these points as clear as they should be, note this in your review.

Other questions to ask include:

  • Does the Discussion fit with the aims of the study stated in the Introduction?
  • Are there any alternative interpretations of the data that the authors should have considered in their Discussion?
  • Is there any general background that belongs in the Introduction section rather than the Discussion?
  • Have the authors adequately compared their findings with the findings of other studies?
  • Do the authors present data in the Discussion? All relevant data should be presented in the Results section, although important or interesting results can be summarized as part of the Discussion. For example, a sentence such as “Group B’s one-year survival rate was significantly higher than Group A’s,” is acceptable in the Discussion. But a sentence such as, “Group B’s one-year survival rate (1200 / 2000, 60%) was higher than Group A’s (800 / 2000, 40%) (P ‹ 0.05),” belongs in the Results section.
  • Do the authors mention how the study’s results might influence future research?
  • Are the limitations of the study noted? If not, what limitations have you found?
  • Are the authors’ conclusions supported by their data? Have the authors overstated the importance of their findings?


Pay attention to how the authors use references as you review the rest of the manuscript.

Some issues to watch for include: 

  • Are there places where the authors need to cite a reference, but haven’t? (In general, citations are needed for all facts except those that are well-established, common knowledge; that come from the current study; or that are clearly phrased as the authors’ own hypothesis.)
  • Do the authors cite all the most relevant previous studies and explain how they relate to the current results? If not, note which references are missing.
  • Are the cited studies recent enough to represent current knowledge on the topic?
  • Do the authors cite the work of a variety of research groups? This is preferable to mainly citing papers from one or two research groups, especially if one of the most cited groups is one the authors belong to (although it is not always possible in very small fields of study).
  • Do the authors cite many review articles? It is better to cite the original studies.
  • Are all of the citations helpful to the reader? Note any places where the authors seem to be reviewing literature simply to show the depth of their knowledge, or to increase citations of their own previous work.
  • Do the authors cite findings that contradict their own (where they exist), as well as those that support their claims? It is important that the authors provide a well balanced view of previously published work.

Writing a report

Whether you recommend accepting or rejecting the manuscript, keep in mind that one of your goals is to help the authors improve this and future manuscripts—not to make them give up in despair. Avoid overly negative wording or personal comments, point out the main strengths of the manuscript as well as its weaknesses, and suggest specific ways to fix the problems you identify. Also, avoid making overly brief and direct comments, as these can give your report an unfriendly tone. Reviewers for most journals are anonymous, so if anonymity is important to you, avoid comments that could make your identity obvious to the authors.

If the editor sent specific instructions for the reviewer report, or a form to fill out as part of the review, you should write your report in the requested format. If you received no specific instructions, the reviewer report should be divided into two parts:

  • comments to be read only by the editor, and
  • comments to be read by both the editor and the authors.

Comments for only the editor:

In this section, give the editor your recommendation for the manuscript and, more importantly, your reasons behind it. These usually have to do with the manuscript’s scientific soundness, novelty, quality, importance, and suitability for the journal. Editors take many factors into consideration when deciding whether a paper is right for their journal so providing evidence or reasoning for your recommendation is extremely helpful.

TIP: Recommendations are usually one of the following: accept manuscript in its current form, publish with minor changes, publish only if major improvements are made, or to reject the paper.

Comments for both the editor and authors:

In this section, write a detailed report reviewing the different parts of the manuscript. Start with the short summary of the manuscript you wrote after your first reading. Then, in a numbered list, explain each of the issues you found that need to be addressed. Divide the list into two sections: major issues and minor issues. First, write about the major issues, including problems with the study’s method or analysis. Next, write about the minor issues, which might include tables or figures that are difficult to read, parts that need more explanation, and suggestions to delete unnecessary text. If you think the English language of the manuscript is not suitable for publication, try to give specific examples so that the authors know what and how to address the problems.

Be as specific as you can about the manuscript’s weaknesses and how to address them. If the manuscript has line numbers, include the page and line number(s) specific to the part of the study you are discussing. This will help both the authors and the editor, who may later need to judge if the authors have fixed the problems in their revised manuscript. For example, instead of, “The explanation of the proposed mechanism is not clear.” You might write, “The explanation of the proposed mechanism should be more detailed. Consider referring to the work of Li and Smith, et al. (2008) and Stein and Burdak, et al. (2010).”

Keep in mind that the authors—and even the editor—may not be native English speakers. Read over your comments after you finish writing them to check that you’ve used clear, simple wording, and that the reasons for your proposed changes are clear.

After the review

After you submit a review you should receive a notification that the review was successfully received. 

  • Some journals will inform reviewers if the manuscript was accepted or rejected, while others do not. 
  • Some journals send reviewers the comments of other reviewers on the same manuscript along with the decision letter; reading these comments can help you improve your future reviews.

If the authors revise and resubmit the manuscript after review, the editor will often review the changes to decide if the reviewer comments have been fully addressed. 

Sometimes, however, the editor will send the manuscript back to the original reviewers to get their feedback about the acceptability of the revised manuscript. 

  • If this happens, focus on if the authors have resolved the problems you pointed out in your first review. 
  • Try to avoid raising new problems unless they have to do with the author’s revisions. For example, if you asked the authors to explain their methods more clearly, and can now see problems with the experimental design that were not apparent before, it is still appropriate to mention them.

If the authors decided not to follow one or more of your suggestions, and explained why in their response letter, evaluate their reasons fairly and decide if you agree with their decision. 

  • If your suggestion arose from a misunderstanding of the manuscript, check to see if the authors have revised the relevant section to make it clearer or if they have explained a particular problem as a limitation of the study. Be fair. 
  • If you still feel strongly that the manuscript should not be published because of a problem that has not been addressed, you should indicate this to the editor and explain why a particular change or addition is necessary.

For further support

We hope that with this tutorial you have a clearer idea of how the peer review process works and feel confident in becoming a peer reviewer.

If you feel that you would like some further support with writing, reviewing, and publishing, Springer Nature offer some services which may be of help.

  • Nature Research Editing Service offers high quality  English language and scientific editing. During language editing, Editors will improve the English in your manuscript to ensure the meaning is clear and identify problems that require your review. With Scientific Editing experienced development editors will improve the scientific presentation of your research in your manuscript and cover letter, if supplied. They will also provide you with a report containing feedback on the most important issues identified during the edit, as well as journal recommendations.
  • Our affiliates American Journal Experts also provide English language editing* as well as other author services that may support you in preparing your manuscript.
  • We provide both online and face-to-face training for researchers on all aspects of the manuscript writing process.

* Please note, using an editing service is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of acceptance for publication.