There is a common joke in academia about ‘Reviewer 2’ being the harsh, unfair, pedantic reviewer. This can often be exacerbated if it is clear that ‘Reviewer 1’ only spent a total of 5 minutes reading, reviewing, and uploading their feedback. Therefore, I feel like we should all aim to be a little bit Reviewer 1 & a little bit Reviewer 2. Here are my tips for providing a useful peer-review.
View it as an opportunity to learn rather than a chore– Often an email asking you to provide a review comes at the most annoying times, times when you have 100 assessments to mark, or a grant to write, or your own publication deadlines. This can make it challenging and make it feel like a chore. I try instead to review it as an opportunity to stay across the literature in my area and see what new research is emerging.
Only agree to the review if you have the capacity– If you genuinely do not have the time to provide a useful review, decline. If the article is not in your area of knowledge, decline. It is unfair to provide a luck-luster review.
Ensure that you provide specific feedback- As I am a teaching academic I spend a lot of time marking, or providing feedback on my marker’s marking, or giving feedback on my honours students works. So I give a lot of feedback. I use this experience for my reviews. I ensure that I provide specific feedback, take those few extra seconds to explain something or provide an example. I hate getting vague reviewer comments so I try not to give them.
Make your feedback easy to digest- While some journals have a very specific structure for how to provide feedback, a lot leave it up to you. I always spend the time to ensure the feedback I provide is easy to digest. Taking the time to state the page number / line number, bold sections if that helps, provide headings like ‘introduction’, ‘abstract’ etc. so that the authors know exactly what I are referring to.
Above all, be kind. One can provide constructive feedback that improves the quality of the manuscript while also being kind. One can reject a manuscript while also being kind. One can say that the methods used were wrong while being kind. Take the time to write kind, specific, and easy to understand comments. Don’t let you being time poor lead to comments like ‘?’, ‘I don’t understand’, ‘this is wrong’. These are neither useful or kind.