What Makes a Good Review?

In a previous blog post, we discussed what you can do to become a reviewer.  Once you become a reviewer, you should understand how to provide a thorough, first-rate review.

Anatomy of a useful and high-quality review

A high-quality review is useful to both the editor and the author. It should include:

  • A brief summary of the manuscript that places the work into context with the current literature.
  • A discussion of the possible impact of the work and its potential interest to the journal’s readership.
  • A discussion of the scientific merit of the research. Is the research well thought-out and completed at a high level?
  • A discussion of the data quality. Were the data obtained correctly? Are there any control experiments missing?
  • A discussion of the quality of the writing. Are there major problems with the grammar that make it difficult to understand the research? (As a reviewer, you are not expected to review work that is poorly written or incomprehensible.) Are necessary references included?
  • An overall recommendation. If you have major concerns, let the editor know.

Comments to share with the editor

Comments to authors are required, but comments to the editorial office are optional. You should provide comments to the editor if:

  • You are concerned that a conflict of interest exists.
  • You have reviewed the manuscript previously for another journal. Has the manuscript improved since you last reviewed it?
  • You believe that other papers should be included in the references, but want to avoid adding them to the review directly to protect your anonymity.
  • You believe scientific misconduct has occurred.

If you do share comments with the editor, be sure they’re consistent with what you’ve told the writer. Do not tell the editor the manuscript is unacceptable, but provide positive reviews to the authors.

Some additional tips for reviewers

  • Respond promptly to the request and provide the review on time. If you are too busy, you can say no to a request. If you can, it is helpful to suggest 2–3 other potential qualified reviewers.
  • Substantiate your review; do not just provide an opinion. Use points from the manuscript, as well as from the relevant literature, and be specific about what is incorrect and why it is incorrect.
  • Provide citation information when relevant to the review.
  • Provide constructive criticism and a discussion of the work and its quality. Leave editorial decisions up to the editor.

In a later blog post, we will discuss how authors should respond to reviewer comments.