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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, Careers shares collected insights and advice about how to review papers from researchers across the spectrum.As junior scientists develop their expertise and make names for themselves, they are increasingly likely to receive invitations to review research manuscripts.
Do the hypotheses follow logically from previous work? To what extent does the Discussion place the findings in a wider context and achieve a balance between interpretation and useful speculation versus tedious waffling? (Then, throughout, if what I am reading is only partly comprehensible, I do not spend a lot of energy trying to make sense of it, but in my review I will relay the ambiguities to the author.) I should also have a good idea of the hypothesis and context within the first few pages, and it matters whether the hypothesis makes sense or is interesting. I do not focus so much on the statistics—a quality journal should have professional statistics review for any accepted manuscript—but I consider all the other logistics of study design where it’s easy to hide a fatal flaw.
Mostly I am concerned with credibility: Could this methodology have answered their question?
I read the digital version with an open word processing file, keeping a list of “major items” and “minor items” and making notes as I go.
There are a few aspects that I make sure to address, though I cover a lot more ground as well.
If the answer to all four questions is yes, then I’ll usually agree to review.
I am very open-minded when it comes to accepting invitations to review.
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 to review unless I have the time.
(In my field, authors are under pressure to broadly sell their work, and it's my job as a reviewer to address the validity of such claims.) Third, I make sure that the design of the methods and analyses are appropriate. I also pay attention to the schemes and figures; if they are well designed and organized, then in most cases the entire paper has also been carefully thought out.
First, I read a printed version to get an overall impression. When diving in deeper, first I try to assess whether all the important papers are cited in the references, as that also often correlates with the quality of the manuscript itself.