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Anatomy of a Peer-Review - Part 1: Choosing the Perfect Paper

As part of our first ever review writing competition on Publons, we're writing a series of articles on how to write the best reviews possible. Read on, and improve your chances to win!

I've talked to a lot of people about writing post-publication peer-reviews on Publons. And one of the biggest roadblocks I have found people encounter is that they have trouble deciding what paper to write their review about.

After all, it's quite a different proposition than the current way journal peer-review is undertaken - in that situation you're given a particular article to review, and your only decision is whether or not to review it. Adding choice of subject material for reviewers adds a whole new dimension, giving you freedom to tailor your peer-review record to whatever your academic and employment goals are. But it does also introduce a lot of questions!

My recommendation to people who ask me how to choose a paper to review is always the same: You should choose a paper which you're already familiar with from your research. Those are the papers that'll be easiest for you to write about. Even more importantly they are the papers that your expertise will be best suited to. Working with the results of that paper can give you a unique view on the paper that would undoubtedly be valuable for other academics to read.

A few other things to consider when choosing the ideal paper:

  • Choose a paper about which you have some things to say. Short descriptive reviews are fine, but they're not likely to receive the most attention from your peers!
  • Choosing more recent papers can also increase the amount of interest your review generates. Your peers will be more enthusiastic about engaging with newer science!
  • Choosing higher impact papers can be a double edged sword. While more people will be interested in reading the reviews, if there are too many reviews for the same paper, your contribution risks being lost among the crowd

I hope that gives you an idea of how to move forward, and some more motivation to write a review, and win our competition! But, just in case you want an even more perscriptive answer I've prepared a list of papers you might find interesting. Hopefully these are broad enough in scope that you can find one or two to your liking:

Publon #2751 is a paper from late 2010 that generated a huge amount of scholarly debate

Publon #2752 is a recent paper pushing the boundaries of atomic imaging.

In Publon #2753, the authors investigate the correlation between the size of science grants, and their impact in a number of citation-based metrics

Publon #2754 is written a little bit closer to conversational speech than the common scholarly prose. Do you think it is successful?

Publon #2755 has a scientific look at the question: What happens in medical emergencies on airplanes?

And in Publon #2756, the authors cover a topic near and dear to our hears here at Publons - peer review! What happens when a near-identical copy of a published research paper is submitted to a journal a second time? Are the copies picked up on? And if not, are the editorial decisions the same? Find out in this paper from Behavioural and Brain Sciences.

Happy reviewing, Scientists!

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