4. Be Constructive

It is very difficult to be constructive, especially when the editor instructs reviewers to be very strict because the journal has a very high rejection rate, sometimes as high as 80%. Under such circumstances, reviewers automatically focus on “fault finding” in order to support a recommendation of “rejection.” Such negativity bias is not a healthy practice, because it tends to favor the established elite researchers and discriminate against beginners who do not have a track record in publications. I propose that a reviewer should do the honest job of taking a constructive approach to review and let the editor tackle the problem of maintaining a high rejection rate.

Being constructive means that one looks for both the strengths and weaknesses of each manuscript. Even in the case of recommending rejection because of fatal flaws, provide logical and empirical justification for the criticism so that the authors can improve their research. From this perspective, it takes much less time to accept a manuscript than to reject one, as illustrated in this review, “How to Measure Existential Meaning” (Wong, 2017).

5. Be Inclusive and Balanced

Most authors suffer from the bias of “tribalism.” This practice is revealed in several ways. The most common form of tribalism is to ignore the findings or theories that may question their pet views. The second common practice is that within any domain of research, they only cite the work of their circle of associates or friends, and ignore “outsiders,” even when the most cited work comes from the latter.

Such intentional citation amnesia is neither scholarly nor ethical, because it ignores important publications that are germane to the topic under investigation. A knowledgeable reviewer should be able to call out such omissions, so that the manuscript can become more inclusive and balanced in its literature review and discussion.

6. Do Not be Afraid of Reprisal

Many reviewers, especially young researchers, do not want to offend “big names” because of fear of reprisal. A renowned psychologist once said to me, “I will make sure that this guy will never have another publication,” after bitterly complaining about a paper critical of his theory. I myself have suffered the consequence of daring to write a critical review of a book authored by a prominent psychologist. Over the years, I have witnessed editors who refused to publish any paper critical of an influential theory or author.

The blind review system provides some cover to a reviewer’s anonymity, but not the editor’s identity. In order to protect the integrity of the peer review, both editors and reviewers need to have the courage to do the right thing for the sake of justice and science, even if it involves the possibility of reprisal.


Ideally, a good reviewer serves two functions. Firstly, one serves the professional function of screening out what is not up to standard and improving what is acceptable. Secondly, one serves the humanistic function of contributing to fairness or justice in the distribution of research funding and publication space.

Being an established author does not automatically make one a good editor or peer reviewer; training is needed to develop competent and objective reviewers. I am so pleased the Publons Academy has taken up the challenge to train master reviewers.

Paul’s tips have been republished from his website.

If you’re interested in learning more about peer review sign up for our Publons Academy. This is a free on-demand course that teaches you how to master the core competencies of peer reviewing, and to connect with editors at elite journals.



Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2013). The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68(9), 801-813. doi:10.1037/a0032850

Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. D., & Friedman, H. L. (2014). Positive psychology and romantic scientism. American Psychologist, 69(6), 636-637. doi:10.1037/a0037390

Brown, N. J. L., & Wong, P. T. P. (2015). Questionable measures are pretty meaningless. American Psychologist, 70(6), 571-573. doi:10.1037/a0039308

Gesser, G., Wong, P. T. P., & Reker, G. T. (1987-88). Death attitudes across the life span. The development and validation of the Death Attitude Profile (DAP). Omega, 2, 113-128.

Wong, P. T. P. (2017). How to measure existential meaning. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/how-to-measure-existential-meaning/

Wong, P. T. P. (2017). How to write a good manuscript review. Dr. Paul T. P. Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/how-to-write-a-good-manuscript-review