1 June 2022

How to write an academic peer review for a journal submission

A step-by-step guide to help you write a quality peer review.

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You’ve received an invitation to review a piece of work, accepted it, but need some advice on what to do now?  We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you write a quality peer review. 

As a crucial aspect of the publication cycle and upholding research’s integrity, it is important you deliver a well-structured and constructive peer review. To do this, an organised and systematic process is necessary. 

Before getting started, we recommend that you first read the journal’s ethical guidelines. This will help you to check for any potential conflicts or issues. If any potential conflicts might exist, then you’ll need to discuss these right away.

Then check the structure and style that is required for that journal’s evaluation. Some follow an informal approach, while others have a more rigid structure. You should be aware of the expected style before getting started and compiling your critical comments.

If you know that you will struggle to meet the deadline from the outset, let the editor know, so they can inform the author.

Now you can begin…

  1. Read it through twice from start-to-finish

Give yourself time to think about the research in between each reading. After the first read-through, begin annotating the paper, writing observations and comments as you go. Try to identify any inconsistencies, undefined concepts and assumptions that are made.

  1. Evaluate the research 

Assess the validity of the study in the context of its subject area and get comments from others in the field.

Before putting pen to paper, consider it against the following points:

  • The rigour of its methodologies the quality of presentation
  • Overall strengths and weaknesses
  • The social impact: size of impact, importance, scope and immediacy
  • The overall recommendation on publishing

  1. Write up your notes into a first draft

First read through all the notes you gathered. Then get started by creating a brief summary of the study. Your summary should introduce the research’s aim, the main research question, and the conclusions that were found. 

Before you can assess its overall quality and your recommendation to the editor, write its strengths and weaknesses in bullet point form. When outlining its weaknesses and areas for improvement, don’t forget to offer solutions and suggestions to exactly what could help strengthen the argument.

End your draft with a list of additional remarks, suggestions and helpful readings.

Now you can begin expanding on each of your bullet points, ensuring enough detail to both back your overall recommendation and to help the author make the needed revision.

  1. Forming your recommendation to the editor

You will need to suggest one of the following five recommendations:

  • Unconditional Acceptance: Accept the study as is, with no need for revisions (this is quite rare)
  • Conditional Acceptance: the author needs to make minor revisions, usually the editor will check if these revisions are made
  • Revise and Resubmit: Major revisions, this requires another peer review
  • Rejection: Rejecting the paper with good reason
  • Rejection and Chance of Resubmission: Suggesting major revisions, such as re-do a new analysis or experiment on the selected case-study. This will then require a new round of peer review

Remember these are only your recommendations. It is the chief editor who makes the final decision. 

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