Q: What are the components of a good review?

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Reviewers can request CME credit, but to award it their reviews must be considered thorough and complete. What are the components of a thorough and complete review (perhaps in outline form?), and what can we supply the reviewer of the substandard review by way of explaining why this one failed and what to do next time?

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Answer:

According to the Council of Science Editors’ white paper on publication ethics, a peer reviewer’s responsibilities include:

  • Providing unbiased written feedback on the merits and scientific value of the work.
  • Assessing the composition, clarity, scientific accuracy, and originality of the work and its relevance for the target audience.
  • Providing a thoughtful, fair, constructive, and informative evaluation of the manuscript.
  • Avoiding personal comments or criticism.
  • Maintaining the confidentiality of the review process.
  • Pointing out ethical concerns, such as possible lack of informed consent or duplicate submission to the editor

Based on the above criteria, a thorough and complete review would probably include the following elements:

1. A short summary of the reviewer’s overall understanding of the manuscript.

2. An overview of the reviewer’s impression of the work, whether it will contribute to existing knowledge in the field, and if it will be of interest to the target audience.

3. Comments about specific aspects, preferably categorized as major and minor.

  • Major comments will include specific comments and suggestions about the content of each section of the paper as well as about the structure and organization, backed by supporting evidence and examples.
  • Minor comments would point out minor errors such as incorrect labeling of a figure, spelling, grammatical errors, stylistic, and formatting issues.

4. A separate list of comments that are meant exclusively for the editor

5.  Any incidence of suspected plagiarism, data fabrication, or any other ethical breach should be reported to the editor.

6. Recommendation for acceptance, rejection, major or minor revisions to the editor, providing reasons for the reviewer’s opinion.

With regard to substandard reviews, it would probably help if you give them a model review along with a few other resources. You would definitely not be able to give them an actual review as it would be a breach of confidentiality, but you could think of creating a mock review to serve as a model for reviewers. Another option is to standardize your journal’s review processes by having a form. Many journals use such forms for review purposes. The form would include all the points on which you would want the reviewer to comment. Additionally, you could provide the reviewers with some resources that would help them understand how to review a manuscript and what to include in the review report. Here are a few resources that might be helpful:

http://www.editage.com/insights/series/tips-for-first-time-peer-reviewers

http://www.editage.com/insights/behind-the-scenes-how-a-journal-editor-reaches-a-decision-on-a-manuscript-after-peer-review

http://www.editage.com/insights/how-to-make-the-journal-review-process-seamless-recommendations-from-a-journal-editor