How Should I Approach Reviewing an Article?

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Katrina Newitt
Katrina Newitt is senior peer review manager in the SAGE Journal STM Editorial team

The theme of this year’s Peer Review Week is diversity and inclusion; ensuring access to training and appropriate resources for early career researchers from different backgrounds and countries is essential to broadening reviewer pools and diversifying peer review communities.

Earlier in the year, I attended a reviewer workshop hosted by Sense about Science, where one of the attendees commented that they had no concept of what they were supposed to do the first time they were asked to complete a peer review. This should come as no surprise – most early career researchers receive little to no training on how to peer review, and it’s not always easy to find consistent or helpful guidance.

After all, it’s quite the responsibility – your comments may form the basis of an editor’s decision on whether or not to publish a paper. Whatever the outcome, your review should be specific and constructive enough to help the authors with any revisions needed to improve their research. Consider what type of comments and feedback have been useful for you when improving or refining your own work, and adopt this style when approaching your peer review.

Different journals have different criteria for the type of content that they need, so be sure to check for any specific instructions on the journal website or in the emails inviting you to review. If in doubt, ask the editor or the editorial office for guidance. In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started:

Read the whole paper through to get an overall impression of its quality and suitability for the journal and then consider:

  • Does the abstract help you to understand the aims, key data and conclusions of the paper?
  • Are the methods rigorous and replicable?
  • Are the results clear and does any discussion put these into context?
  • Are there any major flaws, i.e., factual errors?
  • Have you spotted anything which might indicate a potential ethics issue?

If you’d like to find out more, SAGE recently published a guide for new or inexperienced reviewers, which we designed to cover the basics of peer review as well as to provide advice on how to evaluate the different sections of the paper, how to structure feedback and where to look for ethical problems. Please let us know if this guide is useful, and if there are any other areas you’d like us to cover in the future. And good luck!

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