Four simple steps to writing a comprehensive and professional peer review

Peer review is the standard process used in research and academic conferences, and is essentially the evaluation of materials - whether an abstract submission, a full paper, or even a journal - by other similarly qualified individuals (peers).

If you are invited to review an abstract for the first time, using abstract management software, you can make sure that your peer review is comprehensive and professional, without poring over it for hours and going through endless drafts. We have four simple steps to help guide you through the process.

Check the review format

Before you read the abstract, check the format of the review that is required. Different abstract submission software have varying requirements, but most will need to be completed online. Do you need to simply enter a grade? Or are they asking for comments on specific elements – eg – originality, or advancement of field? Or do they just want a general appraisal? Sometimes there are word limits for comments, so make sure you check this first so you don’t have to do some brutal last minute editing.

Prepare a checklist

Using the peer review form questions as guidance, prepare yourself with a checklist. This will obviously depend on your own criteria and priorities, but you might want to consider relevance, advancement to field, originality, and quality. Schedule enough time to complete the review, so you can reassure yourself that you have taken the care and consideration needed to submit a helpful, balanced and comprehensive review.

Have a thorough read

Read the abstract thoroughly from start to finish. Pause, and note your initial overall impression. Is it coherent and well written? Has the author included figures, illustrations or tables? (This may depend on the abstract submission software’s capabilities). Are they clear, well-designed, relevant and incorporated into the text in a logical way? Are there any statistics – if so – check them for accuracy. Begin to make notes, according to your criteria, and annotate the paper, if required, using comments or track changes, or consider google docs for online storage so you can access and pick up the review from anywhere.

Start your first draft

Using your notes, start by creating the first draft of your peer review. Begin with a brief summary, and then make your points, noting strengths and weaknesses, and major and minor issues, but giving each the appropriate due weight. Use these points to structure your review. Be constructive, professional and neutral when giving comments and write in a calm, friendly and objective tone. Give detailed feedback and back up any criticism with references and facts.

Check and amend

When you have completed your first draft, go back and review – ahem – your peer review. Are you addressing the work, and not commenting, implicitly or otherwise, on the reviewer? Are your comments useful for the author – do they suggest how, why and where to make improvements? Are you concentrating on major issues, or getting sidetracked by minor ones – eg a typo? Does your review assist the committee in making a balanced and informed decision? Have you entered the review according to the abstract submission software’s requirements?

More great tips from reviewers here.

If you’ve got any tips on how to write a peer review, let us know.