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Expert tips from the world's top peer reviewers

Publons Peer Review Awards are back for 2018, bringing you the top reviewers and editors who’ve gone above and beyond in improving scholarly communication!

To celebrate the arrival of the Awards (announced on September 12th during #PeerReviewWeek18), and to give you insight into what it takes to win a top spot, we interviewed some of the winners from our 2017 edition.

Up this week, we speak with Ana-Maria Florea, Scientific Officer at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). Ana-Maria has secured six Publons Peer Review Awards and completed 404 reviews for 30 different academic journals over the last couple of years.

We asked Ana-Maria for tips and insights to share with those new to peer review, and what diversity in peer review (the theme of this year’s Peer Review Week) means to her...

Publons: You've picked up numerous of our Peer Review Awards and are listed as one of the top reviewers for Germany on Publons - how does that make you feel?

Ana-Maria: It is a great thing to be a scientist today and to contribute to knowledge. I am grateful to be part of the scientific community and I am very happy to share knowledge with my fellows in science. It is really rewarding to see that my contributions to science makes sense and motivates me to go on.

“It is a great thing to be a scientist today and to contribute to knowledge.”

Why is diversity in peer review, the theme of this year's Peer Review Week, critical to improving the system?

In my opinion "peer review" is almost a guarantee of quality assurance and relevance of a certain study for the scientific community. The diversity of the reviewers (that have for instance: different scientific, cultural backgrounds, and levels of experience), ensure the effectiveness in identifying research that might have an impact in the scientific community. The skills, attitudes, conduct, and cultural background influence the review outcome, despite the varying expectations among reviewers and editors, and those in different areas of scientific disciplines. Thus, diversity will improve peer review!

How do you go about reviewing a manuscript?

First, I read the abstract to see if I can review the paper, if my expertise is sufficient to judge the manuscript. If yes, then I would accept to review the manuscript. Then, I would go to the journal web page and read the instructions for reviewers, check if the manuscript fits in the journal format, if references are standardised. After that, I critically read the manuscript, taking personal notes on strong and weak points of the manuscript, the English language style and grammar, check previous publications of the authors and of other authors in the field to be sure that the results were not published before, evaluate the introduction if it is complete and the methods if there are any mistakes, but also check in details of the presented results and their discussion, etc. When I have a clear opinion about the manuscript I write down my comments split in major concerns and minor issues, I give specific recommendation for changes in the manuscript that the authors can do, and I give my recommendation to the editor.

How much time do you typically devote to reviewing a single manuscript?

Good and bad manuscripts are easy to review because, as an expert, you can easily form an opinion; more time is required for middle-quality manuscripts, but also to complicated manuscripts that are published in high impact journals. Usually the Journals give you a time-frame that is between 7-14 days.

At what stage does an early career scientist become qualified to peer review?

In my opinion, a scientist qualifies to review a manuscript when he/she has worked for at least 2 years in the same area of expertise as the authors of the manuscript, and his/her review is supervised by an experienced scientist. As an independent reviewer, the best would be that the scientist already has a PhD and has written and published a manuscript.

Any tips for how these researchers might get noticed by editors for the first time?

Tips to get noticed by editors? Yes: publish, publish, publish!

“Tips to get noticed by editors? Yes: publish, publish, publish!”

When should a reviewer reject a review invitation?

One should reject an review invitation when he/she (1) is not an expert in the field, (2) does not feel comfortable reviewing the manuscript, (3) does not have time to review the manuscript in details, (4) there are conflicts of interests with the authors, (5) will not give the reviewer comments in the time frame given by the Journal.

Following on from the above, do you have any rules of thumb for how many review invitations you accept per month?

Younger scientists should take maximum 1-2 invitation per month, the more experienced reviewers can do more.

Do you ever sign your name to your reviews?

No, and I think the reviewer's name should stay secret, just for the objectivity.

Any other tips for less experienced peer reviewers out there?

Please stay impartial and give constructive suggestions that can improve the quality of a manuscript.

Thanks, Ana-Maria!

Will you be named one of our 2018 Sentinels of Science?

To give yourself the best shot at becoming a Sentinel of Science, make sure you upload all your reviews to Publons by September 1st (winners will be announced on the 12th). Stay tuned for updates by following our Awards page, our blog, and our #SentinelsofScience hashtag on Twitter.

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