Becoming a peer reviewer is a milestone in the academic career of a researcher. Being invited to peer review an academic publication means that your expertise is recognized by your scientific community. It is an opportunity to give back to the community and support the accumulation of scientific knowledge in your field.
Peer reviewing is more than just an academic duty. Being a peer reviewer awards you universally recognized acknowledgement of your expertise, an important addition to your CV, and a chance to stay up to date on the latest developments in your field. You also get to continually train your critical thinking in ways that will benefit your own research and writing processes.
Before you take on a peer review, you should first confirm that it is within your scope of expertise and current capacity, and that there are no conflicts of interest. Then you set out to scrutinize the manuscript, evaluate its suitability for publication, and finally offer your formal recommendation.
When you have a structured work plan and ask the right questions, the review process is easier and more productive. Plan to start with reading the manuscript fully from start to finish, to gather first impressions and a general overview of the work.
In this first read-through, identify the research questions and arguments, methods used, and the interpretation of the results. Try to assess whether the manuscript offers a meaningful contribution to the field and whether it would be relevant to the journal’s readers, and also gather your impressions on its presentation, structure, and general comprehensibility.
After the initial overview, you can evaluate each section of the manuscript and its appropriate role in a scientific paper. These sections include the title, abstract, and keywords, introduction, materials and methods, results and figures, discussion and conclusion, and references. Assess the sections for their clarity, accuracy, functionality, and suitability.
As a researcher yourself, you are undoubtedly familiar with this general structure of a scientific paper. Methodically scrutinizing other’s work as a peer reviewer will also benefit your own writing and help you be more mindful of the aspects you as a reviewer pay attention to.
When you turn to writing your reviewer report—regardless of your recommendation—maintain a helpful approach that aims to support the manuscript’s authors. Be as specific as you can about the manuscript’s weaknesses and how to address them, so that your review will help the authors to improve this and future manuscripts.
Your knowledge in your specific field of expertise is the basis on which you perform as a peer reviewer. But as with any academic duty, you can hone your skills to perform better in this role.
Preparing for becoming a peer reviewer (or preparing for your next peer review, even if you’ve already done many!), will ensure that the process is as beneficial as possible for all parties involved: you the reviewer, the manuscript’s author(s), the academic journal, and also the audience in your scientific community.
In Springer Nature’s free online tutorial “How to peer review”, you will find detailed guidance for performing a peer review. You will learn about the various types of peer review, what you need to consider before accepting an invitation to review, how to scrutinize the manuscript section-by-section, and detailed explanations on writing a reviewer report. It is a holistic overview of the process that will also be handy to use as a guide before any peer review you commit to.
Aviv Melamud: Before joining Springer Nature as a Copywriting and Translations Specialist, Aviv was a peace researcher, focusing on global and regional politics and conflict, international negotiations and agreements, and policy advice. She is an experienced writer and editor, with a passion for knowledge transfer and dissemination.