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Academic Careers

Become a Reviewer: Advancing and Contributing in the Scientific Establishment

A small but poignant dramatic moment occurs whenever the researcher–young or old–opens the e-mail containing a decision letter about his or her latest research article and knows the fate of it has been largely decided by the advice of anonymous reviewers. Inevitably, we bless or curse those reviewers–but I suggest that you join them and do it early in your career.  

The benefits of reviewing fall into two categories:  (1) to yourself and
your career and (2) to the journal and your scientific community.  The
personal benefits include gaining cutting-edge knowledge from the facts
and references in the paper, sharpening your critical judgment by
teaching you to identify the strengths and flaws in your peers’
research, gaining insights into how journals function and editors make
decisions, and becoming known to editors and editorial boards. Most
journals rely on a volunteer pool of expert scientists who find time in
busy schedules to review manuscripts. Reviewers are vital to the
scientific community. Journals could not be published without their
Some journals offer instructions for reviewers, but
the following common critical elements should be kept in mind when
completing a review for any journal.

  • Follow the Golden Rule and treat others as you would like to be
    treated.  Be thoughtful and constructive in your criticism, and always
    remember to remain respectful and polite.
  • Provide a substantive review and avoid one-sentence accolades or
    condemnations.  (The appropriate length of the review will, of course,
    vary with the quantity and complexity of the manuscript.)
  • Feel free to comment on grammar and writing style and offer
    suggestions when you can, but do not undertake rewriting the manuscript.
  • Be specific and supply critical missing citations when possible. 
  • Consider the length of the paper and what needs to be expanded or shortened.
  • Give careful consideration to all the parts of the paper, including the title, abstract, and discussion.
  • Treat confidentiality as a sacred trust and never share or copy the manuscript.
  • If you need to consult a colleague, this person must follow the same confidentiality requirements.

These are introductory suggestions and by no means complete.  If
you are interested in reviewing, send your CV and a cover letter to the
journals’ editors. Assuming you have the right qualifications–expertise
in a field the journal covers–they’ll probably be glad to add you to
their pool of reviewers. 

Reviewing manuscripts is a challenging
and stimulating exercise and can be beneficial to one’s career. It can
lead, eventually, to membership on editorial boards, and it provides
valuable experience to prepare you for study section work.