Fruitful Feedback: 5 Factors of a Great Peer Review

Jennifer LovickBy Jennifer Lovick, Executive Editor of Cancer Control and Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment and Senior Managing Editor at SAGE Publishing

You’ve been invited to review a paper that is under consideration for publication in a research journal. You want to make sure you provide useful feedback about the paper as it contains research that may have the potential to greatly contribute to your field. Where do you begin? We’ve asked several of our open access journal editors what they look for when receiving a peer reviewed paper and have gathered their thoughts into five factors that make for a great review.

  1. Summarize the paper

The first section of a review should contain a 1-2 paragraph summary of the paper. This summary is a chance for a reviewer to not only demonstrate understanding of the topic, but it also gives a reviewer the opportunity to provide an interpretation of the study. For both the authors and the editors, a summary helps them to know that the reviewer is an expert in the field and gives them confidence in the reviewer’s feedback.

  1. Identify key elements of the paper

A great peer review addresses all aspects of a paper and provides constructive feedback on each section.

Key questions to keep in mind when evaluating the structure and content of a paper include:

  • Have the authors provided a clear research ethics statement?
  • Are the study design and methods relevant and appropriate for the research question being addressed? (E.g. Is the sample size big enough? Is the statistical method the correct one for the data set?)
  • Are the results accurately presented (no interpretation) and easy to understand?
  • Is the discussion and conclusion written in the context of relevant research?
  • Are conclusions drawn from the findings overstated in any way?
  • Did the authors acknowledge the limitations of their study in the discussion section?
  1. Be unbiased

While it is important to take into consideration the novelty and significance of a study’s findings to the research field, the most important contribution a reviewer can provide is feedback on the quality and validity of a study. A reviewer who is an expert in the field is best poised to assess, without bias, its scientific merit and it is this aspect of their review that is extremely valuable to an editor.

  1. Maintain a positive tone

A great review provides constructive criticism to authors. The tone of the review should be positive and encouraging, even when recommending to reject a paper. Tone can heavily influence an author’s reaction to feedback and even deter them from trying to address issues that are raised. Remember, the main purpose of a review for authors is to help them improve the weak points in their manuscript. Being direct while still being positive will allow authors to gain the most out of the feedback provided in a peer review.

  1. Positive communication with the Editor

If you are invited to review a paper consider this as an opportunity to also establish a relationship with the journal’s editor. Communicate in a timely and professional manner. Respond promptly to an invitation to review, even if you are declining. When possible, suggest alternative reviewers if you are unable to review. Only review if the topic is relevant to your field of research. If you do agree to review a paper, be sure to return your comments in a timely manner and adhere to the deadline given by the editor. By following professional etiquette like this, you will most likely be asked to review again in the future and become an integral part of the peer review process for the journal. Editors value strong peer reviewers and greatly appreciate when they consider to continue reviewing for their journal.

Using the above tips, you will be well on your way to becoming a preferred reviewer for editors and a valuable addition to their journal. By reviewing, you will contribute to the high standards and quality of a journal while also learning about up and coming research in your field. Reviewing also sets you on the track to achieving your career goals by enhancing your professional development skills. While editors recognize reviewing is a time consuming task, the benefits of reviewing are immeasurable. For more information about how to build you reviewer profile, see here.

Editors who contributed their insights on peer review:

This post is part of SAGE’s Peer Review focused content for Peer Review Week 2018. Keep up to date during the week by following the hashtag #PeerRevWk18

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