Why peer review?
Reviewing improves your own writing and research. Reviewing will expose you to the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of writing and research construction. When you compare the parts that make up a solid manuscript to those that make up a poor manuscript, you will take those lessons with you when you construct your own paper. In the lab, you will keep in mind the limitations of techniques and the use of proper controls.
Reviewing can help further your career. Reviewing is one of the many responsibilities of a principal investigator. Reviewing can help establish your expertise in the field and expand your professional network by increasing your exposure to key figures in your field. Reviewing experience as a graduate student or postdoc shows your ability to take on this task if you’re thinking about the academic track. This experience is particularly important if you are thinking about pursuing a career path into science publishing, writing, editing, or journalism.
How do you become a reviewer?
If you’re a principal investigator, you can email the editorial staff to let them know that you’re interested and introduce yourself to editors at conferences. Typically, only principle investigators are thought to have enough research experience and expertise in their field to be independent reviewers. However, graduate students and postdocs can get reviewing experience through their mentor. A primary investigator can include trainees as ad hoc reviewers. Just make sure to ask the journal’s editor first!
So you're asked to peer review a manuscript, what should you do?
If you are asked to review a manuscript, you should first consider a few things: Do you have sufficient knowledge of the field of science or technique/technology to offer a comprehensive assessment? Do you have the time? A thorough review can take a few hours or even a few days, depending on the length and complexity of a manuscript. Be honest. If you don’t have the expertise or time, let the editors know as soon as possible so they can invite other reviewers.
Be transparent. Do you have any conflict of interest? Are the authors a group that you collaborate with? Compete against? Does the authors’ mechanism conflict with the mechanism that you support? If there is any possibility for a perceived bias in your review, you should let the editors know so they can take that into consideration when making their final decision.
Things to consider while reviewing:
Overall: Is the manuscript well-written? Is the hypothesis clear and logical? Do the scope, quality, and novelty of the study fit with the journal?
Methodology: Is the study design logical? Is the methodology solid? Did the authors use proper controls? Are there sufficient replicates or sample size to make conclusions? Are statistics applied properly? For human data, is patient identity protected? For animal and human studies, is there clear adherence to policy and regulations?
Data & interpretation: Is there ambiguity in the tables/figures? Do the authors make claims that overreach their data? Are the authors honest about the limitations of their techniques?
Editing & Text: Are there formatting or grammatical errors? Do the authors cite references appropriately?
Potential Misconduct: Keep an eye out for plagiarism, image manipulation, and data falsification.
Composing the review:
First, reviewers should include a sentence or two about the strengths and novelty of the paper and a statement about the overall quality of the study. Then mention the overall weakness of the manuscript. After that, list the specific comments. Some reviewers like to separate their review comments into major and minor revisions. Major revisions include comments that require additional experimentation or large changes to scientific content and text. Minor revisions include formatting or grammatical errors, mislabeled tables or figures, and misspelling. Other reviewers like to list their comment chronologically by page number. In theory, there is no wrong way to write a thorough review; however, some editors prefer a certain style. Ask the editor if they have a preference for how you report your review comments.