10 Steps to Evaluating Manuscripts as a Peer Reviewer

By: Lucy Frisch

Pre-publication peer review is an integral part of the modern scientific process. It helps the progression and advancement of science by closely examining and verifying research to assure that findings are true and that the conclusions drawn can be trusted. Being a peer reviewer is an opportunity to read the latest research in your field and it can help build your CV as a discipline expert. Participating in regular peer review also helps you develop your own critical thinking and writing skills, so if your experience is limited or you need a refresher, take note of these 10 steps to successfully reviewing a manuscript.

1.Establish a general overview of the paper

After you have read through a manuscript once, write a brief summary, including the paper’s strengths and problems and what it adds to current knowledge in the respective field. Editors often depend on peer reviewers as experts in a specific scientific field to give a paper context within the wider scope of the discipline and this overview will help establish the paper’s main messages and key takeaways.

2.Consider key words for discoverability

After reading through a manuscript once and writing a summary, dive back in and take note of key details that will lead to manuscript discoverability—title, abstract and keywords. Abstracts act as the teaser for any paper so they should be succinct and captivating, sharing the key aspects of a study and able to stand on their own and be comprehensible to someone outside the field.

3.Differentiate between the introduction and the abstract

While the abstract offers the reader a concise understanding of the study at hand, the introduction should also include information about the larger research question that prompted the study. Make sure the reasons for performing the study are clear and consistent with the rest of the manuscript.

4.Assure that the materials and methods are clear

The overall quality of the paper is dependent on the study’s methods so look to be sure that the methods make it clear how all of the data was obtained and that the study system is properly described. Controls and comparators should be accurately defined and the means of analyzing the data as well as the outcome measures should be objectively validated.

5.Examine results and figures with a sharp eye

With results being one of the sections a reader will read the most closely, it’s important that the information included in figures and tables can be understood outside the larger context of the paper. Make sure that measures of uncertainty are defined and that data is not repeated within any explanations.

6.Have a solid understanding of statistics

Revisit a manuscript with specific consideration of statistical methods being used and if you don’t feel qualified to evaluate the reporting in the paper at hand, don’t be afraid to tell your editor so they can ask someone else to review this section.

7.Look for clarity from the discussion and conclusion

Authors must interpret the results of their experiment in a way that considers previous findings and explains what their study means for the future of research in the field. Make sure the manuscript makes mention of any limitations in the scientific process and properly positions itself with respect to other studies, including the importance of this specific paper.

8.Keep an eye out for references

It’s critical that a paper makes use of proper citations so pay close attention to references that might be missing and assure that references being made are current enough to still be relevant. It’s also important for references to be varied and know that original studies are preferable sources of information than review articles.

9.Know the difference in reviewing a review

Review articles will not include original findings so the manuscript should instead be evaluated on aspects such as the breadth of the discussion and whether it contributes to ideas for future experiments based on the research being reviewed.

10.Write a constructive reviewer report

The goal of peer review is to help authors improve their research and future studies so keep this is mind when writing your reviewer report. Be constructive in your feedback and avoid overly negative statements and critiques. If you highlight an error or some aspect of the study that is lacking, be sure to offer a solution or a suggestion for improvement.

Discover additional details on these questions and more in our Author and Reviewer Tutorial on How to Peer Review.

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