Before any research, publication, or journal can be published and considered to be of superior quality, it must go through a rigorous process of editing and checking. After all, no one wants to be the author of any written work that’s haphazardly done. In the case of research papers, the quality of the work is more important than the speed of publishing.

To ensure that a research paper is of high quality and meets the required standards, it must go through a double-checking process known as peer review. In this process, written feedback is provided to the author of that work in the form of constructive criticisms and commentaries. This is done before the manuscript is published.

In the peer review research process, two parts must be completed. The first involves reading and going through the research or content in its present state. After this, assessment, evaluation, and commentaries are written and communicated to the author for necessary action before publishing.

Before reading on, learn more about peer review for scientific papers here: https://artifacts.ai/what-is-a-peer-review-in-science.

If you’ve recently been tasked with conducting a peer review research but are confused about where to start and how to go about it, here are some tips to guide you through this process.

1. Don’t Put Down, Provide Constructive Criticism

Rather than insulting the author, focus instead on constructive criticism. Remember, there’s a fine line that separates an insult from constructive criticism. Insults won’t help the author to improve their work

Remember the label “peer.” Your position here is like that of a friend whereby you wish to see your friend improve and focus on the weak points that they may have.

Here are some tips for you to follow to ensure that you stay within the bounds of what constructive criticism is:

  • Evaluate your comments and ask yourself whether they support and strengthen the author’s writing and revision process
  • Provide any guidelines or resources that you may have to help the author improve
  • Provide strategies that are firm and well-articulated so that the criticism leaves no space for doubt or any wrongful interpretation by the author
  • Give tips on how to verify and improve the originality of the work if you find any minor or significant hints of plagiarism (which could also be unintentional)

2. Provide A Review Outline

Don’t just provide inputs or commentaries. Go the extra mile in helping the author to improve their paper by providing a review outline. The outline will be easier for the author to follow through on what you’ll like to see in the revised work.

When making your outline, you apply the same format as this example:

  • Summary of your overall impression of the research, both good and bad points. This should be considered as the most important information covering the major points that you want the author to prioritize. The good points can inspire the author and assure that their previous efforts aren’t futile. The bad points comprise those that can help the author to improve the paper to make it more reliable and professional.
  • Provide evidence or examples. This is important, especially in the more challenging areas of the scientific, academic, or medical research, where you feel more evidence and examples are needed. If you’ve got some recommendations on the sources and examples to include, then mention them in your review as well.
  • It’s also here that you must distinguish major issues from the minor ones. For example:
    • Major Issues. These are those problems in the research paper that the author must address before the work can be published. Focus on the issues that are necessary for the current study you’ve just reviewed, not on matters that are not the subject of or within the research paper’s scope.
    • Minor Issues. These refer to the problems in the paper that aren’t very important. These are minor issues that won’t affect the result or the conclusion of the research paper. These can include grammar, spelling and typographical errors, missing references, the need for more data presentation, and other technical clarifications.
  • Miscellaneous points. These comprise the least important things that you like the author to be aware of or to be reminded about.

3. Be Kind And Fair

Remember the paramount purpose or goal of peer review: it’s meant to encourage the writer to keep writing and not to make him give up. The manuscript that the author submits to you is intended to be a draft. This doesn’t have the element of finality yet. So, you must be kind and fair, such that the author doesn’t feel discouraged from moving forward.

Remember, the author has reached this stage with a lot of effort and research. At the very least, give them due credit for this. Whenever you criticize, choose your words in such a way that they remain positive. In doing so, the author stays empowered to keep pushing forward for an even better outcome. The objective is to motivate the author.

4. Always Give An Unbiased Response

Even when you know the author personally, stay away from any bias. Remain neutral so that you can give an unbiased response. You must remain professional in this crucial task that you’re presented with. Also, when you don’t like the topic, or if it’s sensitive for you, stay away from the paper. Don’t take up the task. If you can’t remain unbiased, you’ll fail to achieve the main objective of peer review. You want the author to come up with better work than they have done so far.

5. Give Concrete Advice

Your job here is to help the author. Always ask yourself, “How can I be of help to the author?” Be specific with your advice so that it stays concrete and easily comprehensible by the author. If you go for tips that are too general, you’re not doing anything to help the author improve his work. So, your efforts as a peer reviewer will be useless. Clear and actionable comments will encourage the author to improve the paper. They will know what to do to improve its quality.

First, be very professional in whatever commentary you’re putting in. After this, provide a well-constructed analysis. Don’t write anything for the sake of writing. Such comments will reduce the confidence that the author may have in your abilities or intentions.

To ensure that what you write stays categorized as concrete advice, be guided by the following pointers:

  • List all your analysis for guided improvement so that this can form a big part of the concrete advice that you’ll give.
  • Read the work of the author thoroughly and critically.
  • Think whether the author can provide counterpoints or arguments against your criticism. This thought process will ensure that the author doesn’t end up revising any aspect of the paper that is already good enough.

6. Have The Readers Of The Paper In Mind

As you review the research paper, think about the end recipients of this written work, the readers. Whenever you write any comments or suggestions for revisions, think whether your comments can help improve the reception of the paper by the target audience.

Generally, the key here is in studying whether there’s a definite flow as to how the data is presented or analyzed. Here are some tips for you to determine this:

  • Find out if any data that’s already presented in the tables or infographics are repeated in the text. If there’s any such issue, ask for these to be removed because data in images should never be repeated in toto in the text.
  • Check to see if the paper already has followed a logical pattern that’ll make it easier to browse and read.
  • If there are too many tables and graphs, ask for these also to be explained by the author in the form of text. There shouldn’t be too many graphs and data in a research paper as these may make it more confusing. It’ll be difficult to interpret the points the research paper is trying to prove if the paper is stuffed with tables and graphs without explanation.
  • Provide guidance and tips to the author about how the paper can be revised so that the reader’s overall experience is enhanced.

7. Don’t Ignore The Details

If you’re not well-versed in the topic of the research paper, take the time to do your research before you even start editing or reviewing it. In doing so, you won’t miss important details that are highly technical or scientific.

If you know any friends or co-peer reviewers that are experts in the field of the paper you’re given to dissecting, go the extra mile by asking for their help. That way, you’ll be reducing the chances of accidentally accepting accurate data as inaccurate or vice-versa. Else, you may unknowingly contribute to the paper being retracted. That’s not an outcome that you or the author want.

That said, you also must ensure that whatever conclusion or statement is written with even a hint of finality is always supported with data. This is extremely important because the author shouldn’t be allowed to make any baseless claims.

8. Meet The Five Principles Of Good Peer Review

As you begin reviewing an author’s research paper, consider the five principles of useful peer reviews. These principles should provide the minimum standard that you must always adhere to. The standards will ensure that you do an excellent job as a peer reviewer and achieve your ultimate objectives.

These five principles are:

  • Timeliness. As you browse through the research paper, evaluate its relevance. The research or content to be published must be relevant in today’s day and age. Dissect the data and other claims in the work to ensure that none of the claims or conclusions are outdated because of new data published after the research. Any facts or data in the research paper should be the latest and the most accurate. Ask the author to update the data and recheck his findings if there is any material update or change in the data that forms the basis of the findings.
  • Content integrity. This is one factor that you must overemphasize in your comments. When there’s any information or claim that you feel or know for sure to lack integrity and originality, highlight these immediately. You should be able to help the author come up with a research paper that has integrity and is worthy of trust by the readers.
  • Content ethics. Double-check to see that the author isn’t putting down other people or other research papers directly or claiming research to be false when there’s a lack of evidence to support this claim.
  • Usefulness. Whatever comments or suggestions you put in the paper, even if these are criticisms, always ask yourself whether these comments will be useful for improving the research paper. If they aren’t, there’s no need for you to write those comments.
  • Fairness. As a peer reviewer, you must always be fair. Remember from the very beginning that this isn’t your work. It’s not you who put in all that hard work to come up with the paper that’s right in front of you. So, as you make the necessary recommendations, don’t do or say anything that’ll discredit all the hard work that the author has put in to come up with the paper.

Conclusion

Writing a peer review for a manuscript entails careful thought and detailed planning. Peer reviews play a significant role in ensuring that published research papers are of excellent quality. Remember, that your goal isn’t to put down the author. Also, put yourself in the shoes of the target audience to ensure that your criticism remains relevant. The author has gone through a tedious and thorough research process to come up with the work. Your responsibility is to provide constructive criticism and the right commentary that’ll benefit the author. By reading the tips above, you can conduct a fair and meaningful peer review of a research paper. The insights above will help you to focus on the important things that’ll improve the quality of the published work. The end goal of peer review is to help the author enhance the quality of the research and its findings.