How to review a paper writer

person using black typewriter

As junior scientists develop their expertise and make names for themselves, they are increasingly likely to receive invitations to review research manuscripts. It’s an important skill and service to the scientific community, but the learning curve can be particularly steep. Writing a good review requires expertise in the field, an intimate knowledge of research methods, a critical mind, the ability to give fair and constructive feedback, and sensitivity to the feelings of authors on the receiving end. As a range of institutions and organizations around the world celebrate the essential role of peer review in upholding the quality of published research this week, Science Careers shares collected insights and advice about how to review paper writers from researchers across the spectrum. The responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

What do you consider when deciding whether to accept an invitation to review a paper writer?

I consider four factors: whether I’m sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic to offer an intelligent assessment, how interesting I find the research topic, whether I’m free of any conflict of interest, and whether I have the time. If the answer to all four questions is yes, then I’ll usually agree to review.

– Chris Chambers, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom

I am very open-minded when it comes to accepting invitations to review. I see it as a tit-for-tat duty: Since I am an active researcher and I submit paper writing, hoping for really helpful, constructive comments, it just makes sense that I do the same for others. So accepting an invitation for me is the default, unless a paper writer is really far from my expertise or my workload doesn’t allow it. The only other factor I pay attention to is the scientific integrity of the journal. I would not want to review for a journal that does not offer an unbiased review process.

– Eva Selenko, senior lecturer in work psychology at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom

I’m more prone to agree to do a review if it involves a system or method in which I have a particular expertise. And I’m not going to take on a paper writer to review unless I have the time. For every manuscript of my own that I submit to a journal, I review at least a few paper writer, so I give back to the system plenty. I’ve heard from some reviewers that they’re more likely to accept an invitation to review from a more prestigious journal and don’t feel as bad about rejecting invitations from more specialized journals. That makes things a lot harder for editors of the less prestigious journals, and that’s why I am more inclined to take on reviews from them. If I’ve never heard of the authors, and particularly if they’re from a less developed nation, then I’m also more likely to accept the invitation. I do this because editors might have a harder time landing reviewers for these papers too, and because people who aren’t deeply connected into our research community also deserve quality feedback. Finally, I am more inclined to review journals with double-blind reviewing practices and journals that are run by academic societies, because those are both things that I want to support and encourage.

I usually consider first the relevance to my own expertise. I will turn down requests if the paper is too far removed from my own research areas, since I may not be able to provide an informed review. Having said that, I tend to define my expertise fairly broadly for reviewing purposes. I also consider the journal. I am more willing to review for journals that I read or publish in. Before I became an editor, I used to be fairly eclectic in the journals I reviewed for, but now I tend to be more discerning, since my editing duties take up much of my reviewing time.

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