Advice for new peer reviewers


Go to the profile of Katharine Barnes
Sep 05, 2017
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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
Go to the profile of Katharine Barnes

Katharine Barnes

Managing Editor, Nature Protocols, Nature Research


Go to the profile of Safaa Hagahmed
Safaa Hagahmed 11 months 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?