Tips For Writing An Anonymous Peer Review

So, you've been contacted by a journal to write an anonymous peer review for a topic in which you are an expert. Instead of feeling excited, you might be feeling overwhelmed by the added work, and if it is your first time, you might be unsure of what is expected of you. But, being an anonymous peer reviewer is actually really interesting and doesn't require a large time input from you. Here is what to expect when contacted for a peer review from an academic journal:

Once you see a peer review request in your inbox, you should immediately look at the title and abstract (this should be provided in the email) to see if you are an appropriate authority on the subject. Then, look at the requested time frame for the review, considering if you have any pressing deadlines that you are currently up against. If you don't have any immediate deadlines (e.g., grant applications, grades due, fieldwork, or personal responsibilities) and you are an authority on the topic, your next task is to determine whether or not you have any conflict of interest in reviewing this article. For example, it isn't appropriate to review an article if your research is in direct competition with the research sent to you for review or if you have anything to gain from its publication.

How To Decide Whether To Accept The Review:

1) Determine whether you are an authority
2) Consider pressing commitments
3) Do you have any conflicts of interest?

If you decide you are an appropriate reviewer and can commit to completing the review in time, respond quickly so as to not delay the process. Again, don't worry too much because the time commitment doesn't have to be extensive if you plan correctly.

If you commit to being a peer reviewer, you should hear back from the journal with instructions and perhaps login information for their systems (although not all journals have you review through a system). You then should be able to access the paper.

Next, check your schedule and select an uninterrupted block of time for no more than 1.5 hours. I've met many, many professors who are terrible at time management, so don't be one of them by giving yourself a strict deadline and time limit to complete the review -- and stick to it!

At the beginning of your selected start time (remember to be strict with yourself and don't allow distractions), carefully read the directions provided by the journal for writing the review. This will help to ensure that you won't need to redo your review if you've not followed the directions carefully. Then, open up the document and a clean file where you can compose your review.

When writing your review, keep the following in mind:

  • Write clearly and in complete sentences --> Nothing is worse than getting a review that is so poorly written that it's to the point of being offensive. That is a waste of time for everyone. Don't be that reviewer!

  • Be objective

  • Don't be rude

  • Put yourself in the authors' shoes

  • Be helpful by providing comments and advice that will improve the article

  • Focus on the larger picture rather than grammatical details, unless the grammar is so poor that the paper is not comprehensible. Grammar and phrasing can be commented upon by a simple note stating it requires grammatical revision.

  • Be prompt --> Everyone has had to wait ages to get a response from a journal. Don't be that reviewer that holds up the process.

  • Be critical --> Although you don't want to be rude, you do need to be critical of the work to ensure that the research published is of high quality. Carefully point out areas that might need further explanation or research in a clear, objective voice.


Who here has gotten a review that seemed to come out of left field, was so late, or was so poorly writing it couldn't be understood? I certainly have. So, when you commit to doing a review, please ensure that you set aside the appropriate amount of time and brainpower to provide a professional review that will help improve the article.