Advice for new peer reviewers


Thumb photo
Sep 05, 2017

Katharine Barnes, Managing Editor of Nature Protocols, shares her advice for those who are new to peer reviewing and highlights what is most important when writing a peer review report.

  • - So as an editor of Nature Protocols it's really 00:04
  • important for me to get a set of decent peer review 00:06
  • reports for every manuscript that I receive. 00:09
  • I've got manuscripts coming in and going out, 00:12
  • many every week and so I'm inviting people to peer 00:15
  • review and also receiving their reports multiple times 00:18
  • during the space of a week. 00:21
  • I've literally read thousands of peer review reports 00:23
  • in my time as an editor. 00:25
  • I think the thing that really stands out for me, 00:27
  • the most important bit of advice I can give to anybody 00:30
  • who's embarking on writing a peer review report is to 00:32
  • read the instructions that you're given by the journal. 00:35
  • It seems so obvious, but so many people, unfortunately, 00:38
  • fail to do this. 00:41
  • And that can be a waste of their time 'cause they can 00:43
  • spend time thinking about things that are not important 00:46
  • and not necessary for the peer review report and for 00:50
  • the peer review process. 00:53
  • Nature Protocols, that's the journal that I work on, 00:54
  • is an unusual journal in that we publish methods for 00:57
  • how to do things that have already been described in 01:01
  • published papers. 01:04
  • So we don't need there to be novel findings in our 01:05
  • manuscripts and so many reviewers they're kind of like, 01:09
  • "Oh, well, this isn't new, this isn't interesting." 01:12
  • So they're kind of missing the point of the journal 01:14
  • and that's something we really spell out in the 01:17
  • instructions and people do see that. 01:19
  • Now obviously if you're reviewing a review article 01:22
  • or an article to be published in a primary research 01:25
  • journal, it's perhaps a little bit more obvious what 01:28
  • the editors of that journal want from you. 01:31
  • But even so, there can be specific reasons why they've 01:33
  • asked you to be the peer reviewer. 01:36
  • They know that you're an expert on a particular area, 01:38
  • they know who else they've asked to review the manuscript. 01:40
  • So, really, have a look at what they're asking you to do 01:43
  • and that way you can focus your time on something 01:46
  • that's going to be most useful for ultimately the 01:49
  • authors of the submitted manuscript because they're 01:51
  • the people that are gonna benefit the most from the 01:54
  • peer review process. 01:56
  • So it's really important to read all the material 01:58
  • that you are sent when you review a manuscript. 02:00
  • And probably a first step would just be check that 02:03
  • you've got everything and that you can actually open 02:05
  • all the files. 02:08
  • It might sound ridiculous, but in my editorial office 02:09
  • with the software that I have available I might be 02:11
  • able to open files that you can't. 02:14
  • So if there really does look to be a problem and 02:16
  • you don't have all the information you should have, 02:19
  • then do get back in contact with the editorial office 02:21
  • because obviously you can't properly assess a manuscript 02:24
  • unless you can look at everything. 02:27
  • And it's really key to look at all the supplementary 02:29
  • material and everything that you've got. 02:32
  • So on Nature Protocols we sometimes have reviewers 02:34
  • who really kind of go above and beyond and actually 02:39
  • choose to try out the methods that they're presented. 02:41
  • Obviously this only works with certain types of 02:44
  • protocols that we receive because we ask people to 02:48
  • send their reports back in ten days, but we have people 02:51
  • and they do actually try and analyse their own data 02:54
  • using computational programmes and things like that 02:56
  • so they can really properly get a feel for whether 02:59
  • it works or not. 03:02
  • So, in conclusion, I'd just like to stress that the really 03:04
  • important thing to do is to present the evidence for 03:08
  • what you're saying. 03:11
  • So ultimately you're not making the decision about 03:12
  • whether the paper will be published so you're offering 03:15
  • advice to the editor so they can make that decision 03:17
  • and the paper might not get published. 03:19
  • But that advice you give them about why, 03:22
  • why you think there's these flaws in the manuscript 03:24
  • is really really useful to them in their future research. 03:27
  • Hopefully they'll be able to use that advice and they'll 03:30
  • be able to get the paper published elsewhere or they'll 03:32
  • be able to do additional experiments and further their 03:35
  • research in a helpful direction. 03:38
  • So I've had feedback over the years from many authors 03:41
  • whose manuscripts I've unfortunately rejected telling 03:44
  • me just that, that they're disappointed, obviously, 03:47
  • their paper hasn't been accepted but the feedback 03:51
  • was really useful so it wasn't a complete waste of time 03:53
  • for them to have submitted the manuscript to our journal, 03:56
  • they've received really really useful feedback, 03:59
  • they're using that in their research going forward, 04:01
  • and they just like to thank me for the process. 04:03
  • So finally I'd just like to thank you for listening 04:06
  • to this video and I really hope it helps you do 04:09
  • really useful peer review reports for your peers. 04:12
Medium photo

Katharine Barnes

Managing Editor, Nature Protocols, Nature Research


Thumb default avatar
Safaa Hagahmed over 1 year ago

Thanks for sharing! 

Should I have at least a PhD to be a peer reviewer? 

What is the academic level needed to become one at first place?