Student Representative Column

Participating in the peer review process

Navigating peer review for the first time.

By Justin Strickland

The peer review process may seem unclear or daunting as a graduate student navigating it for the first time. This is unfortunate because peer review does not have to be an intimidating experience. In fact, with the appropriate mindset, it ultimately makes for better science and better researchers. Below is a brief set of tips and tricks for your first foray into peer review.

Go the Extra Mile Before You Begin

A successful review experience begins before you even submit a paper. Make sure that the journal fits the scope of your research and that your content is targeted to that journal's audience. Inappropriate journal selection can result in rejection of an otherwise good research project. A manuscript filled with typos also decreases the attention reviewers can allocate to research content and increases the likelihood of misinterpretation. Careful consideration of this journal selection and manuscript preparation step is essential.

Don't Take It Personally

Peer reviews are critical by nature. Sometimes this criticism may make you mad, upset or confused, and that is okay. However, do not let those feelings paralyze you from making forward progress or stop you from submitting in the first place. And if your article is rejected, do not take it personally. Remember that the acceptance of an article depends on several factors beyond the value of the research and sometimes that includes just dumb luck. As Guyatt and Haynes (2006) put it, the only solution to bad fortune is to “choose a co-author known to have extraordinary and unwarranted good luck.”

Be Responsive and Respectful

Polite and efficient responses make for happier and more helpful reviewers. This is accomplished with clear response letters that:

  • copy each concern point-by-point,
  • provide detailed replies, and
  • include direct text from the revised manuscript that addresses those recommendations.

Such an approach reduces the burden placed on editors and reviewers. Remember too that reviewers make mistakes. If a reviewer asks for information that is already included in the manuscript, there is no need to criticize them. Something that was unclear to a reviewer is likely to be unclear to a future reader, so you will want to address these misconceptions or misunderstandings directly in your manuscript.

Walk a Mile in a Reviewer's Shoes

Seek out opportunities to participate in the peer review process as a reviewer. For example, ask your advisor if you can collaborate on a review. This is a great opportunity to get individualized mentorship about the process and see one example of the many ways that reviews are written. Alternatively, a growing number of journals are including graduate students as peer reviewers (e.g., APA's Translational Issues in Psychological Science; you can sign up here). Reviewing manuscripts is not only an opportunity to learn about peer review and hone your own writing skills, but is also a great way to give back to psychological science and build your CV.

References

Guyatt, G.H., Haynes, R.B. (2006). Preparing reports for publication and responding to reviewers' comments. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 59, 900-906.

http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/tps/call-for-reviewers.aspx