Learning how to write a constructive peer review is an essential step in helping to safeguard the quality and integrity of published literature. Read on for resources that will get you on the right track, including peer review templates, example reports and the Web of Science™ Academy: our free, online course that teaches you the core competencies of peer review through practical experience (try it today).
How to write a peer review
Understanding the principles, forms and functions of peer review will enable you to write solid, actionable review reports. It will form the basis for a comprehensive and well-structured review, and help you comment on the quality, rigor and significance of the research paper. It will also help you identify potential breaches of normal ethical practice.
This may sound daunting but it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of peer review templates, resources and experts out there to help you, including:
- Peer review training courses and in-person workshops
- Peer review templates (found in our Web of Science Academy)
- Expert examples of peer review reports
- Co-reviewing (sharing the task of peer reviewing with a senior researcher)
- Other peer review resources, blogs, and guidelines
We’ll go through each one of these in turn below, but first: a quick word on why learning peer review is so important.
Why learn to peer review?
Peer reviewers and editors are gatekeepers of the research literature used to document and communicate human discovery. Reviewers, therefore, need a sound understanding of their role and obligations to ensure the integrity of this process. This also helps them maintain quality research, and to help protect the public from flawed and misleading research findings.
Learning to peer review is also an important step in improving your own professional development.
You’ll become a better writer and a more successful published author in learning to review. It gives you a critical vantage point and you’ll begin to understand what editors are looking for. It will also help you keep abreast of new research and best-practice methods in your field.
Peer review training courses and in-person workshops
We strongly encourage you to learn the core concepts of peer review by joining a course or workshop. You can attend in-person workshops to learn from and network with experienced reviewers and editors. As an example, Sense about Science offers peer review workshops every year. To learn more about what might be in store at one of these, researcher Laura Chatland shares her experience at one of the workshops in London.
There are also plenty of free, online courses available, including courses in the Web of Science Academy such as ‘Reviewing in the Sciences’, ‘Reviewing in the Humanities’ and ‘An introduction to peer review’
The Web of Science Academy also supports co-reviewing with a mentor to teach peer review through practical experience. You learn by writing reviews of preprints, published papers, or even ‘real’ unpublished manuscripts with guidance from your mentor. You can work with one of our community mentors or your own PhD supervisor or postdoc advisor, or even a senior colleague in your department.
Peer review templates
Peer review templates are helpful to use as you work your way through a manuscript. As part of our free Web of Science Academy courses, you’ll gain exclusive access to comprehensive guidelines and a peer review report. It offers points to consider for all aspects of the manuscript, including the abstract, methods and results sections. It also teaches you how to structure your review and will get you thinking about the overall strengths and impact of the paper at hand.
- Web of Science Academy template (requires joining one of the free courses)
- PLoS’s review template
- Wiley’s peer review guide (not a template as such, but a thorough guide with questions to consider in the first and second reading of the manuscript)
Beyond following a template, it’s worth asking your editor or checking the journal’s peer review management system. That way, you’ll learn whether you need to follow a formal or specific peer review structure for that particular journal. If no such formal approach exists, try asking the editor for examples of other reviews performed for the journal. This will give you a solid understanding of what they expect from you.
Peer review examples
Understand what a constructive peer review looks like by learning from the experts.
Here’s a sample of pre and post-publication peer reviews displayed on Web of Science publication records to help guide you through your first few reviews. Some of these are transparent peer reviews, which means the entire process is open and visible — from initial review and response through to revision and final publication decision. You may wish to scroll to the bottom of these pages so you can first read the initial reviews, and make your way up the page to read the editor and author’s responses.
- Pre-publication peer review: Patterns and mechanisms in instances of endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis
- Pre-publication peer review: Can Ciprofloxacin be Used for Precision Treatment of Gonorrhea in Public STD Clinics? Assessment of Ciprofloxacin Susceptibility and an Opportunity for Point-of-Care Testing
- Transparent peer review: Towards a standard model of musical improvisation
- Transparent peer review: Complex mosaic of sexual dichromatism and monochromatism in Pacific robins results from both gains and losses of elaborate coloration
- Post-publication peer review: Brain state monitoring for the future prediction of migraine attacks
- Web of Science Academy peer review: Students’ Perception on Training in Writing Research Article for Publication
F1000 has also put together a nice list of expert reviewer comments pertaining to the various aspects of a review report.
Co-reviewing (sharing peer review assignments with senior researchers) is one of the best ways to learn peer review. It gives researchers a hands-on, practical understanding of the process.
In an article in The Scientist, the team at Future of Research argues that co-reviewing can be a valuable learning experience for peer review, as long as it’s done properly and with transparency.
The reason there’s a need to call out how co-reviewing works is because it does have its downsides. The practice can leave early-career researchers unaware of the core concepts of peer review. This can make it hard to later join an editor’s reviewer pool if they haven’t received adequate recognition for their share of the review work. (If you are asked to write a peer review on behalf of a senior colleague or researcher, get recognition for your efforts by asking your senior colleague to verify the collaborative co-review on your Web of Science researcher profiles).
The Web of Science Academy course ‘Co-reviewing with a mentor’ is uniquely practical in this sense. You will gain experience in peer review by practicing on real papers and working with a mentor to get feedback on how their peer review can be improved. Students submit their peer review report as their course assignment and after internal evaluation receive a course certificate, an Academy graduate badge on their Web of Science researcher profile and is put in front of top editors in their field through the Reviewer Locator at Clarivate.
Other peer review resources, blogs, and guidelines
Here are some external peer review resources found around the web:
- Peer Review Resources from Sense about Science
- Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts by Sense about Science
- How to review journal manuscripts by R. M. Rosenfeld for Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
- Ethical guidelines for peer review from COPE
- An Instructional Guide for Peer Reviewers of Biomedical Manuscripts by Callaham, Schriger & Cooper for Annals of Emergency Medicine (requires Flash or Adobe)
- EQUATOR Network’s reporting guidelines for health researchers
And finally, we’ve written a number of blogs about handy peer review tips. Check out some of our top picks:
- How to Write a Peer Review: 12 things you need to know
- Want To Peer Review? Top 10 Tips To Get Noticed By Editors
- Review a manuscript like a pro: 6 tips from a Web of Science Academy supervisor
- How to write a structured reviewer report: 5 tips from an early-career researcher
Want to learn more? Become a master of peer review and connect with top journal editors. The Web of Science Academy – your free online hub of courses designed by expert reviewers, editors and Nobel Prize winners. Find out more today.