Learning to write a constructive peer review is an essential step in helping to safeguard the quality and integrity of published literature. Read on for a bunch of resources that will get you on the right track, including peer review templates, example reports, and the Publons Academy: our free, online course that teaches you the core competencies of peer reviewing through practical experience (try it today).
How to write a peer review
Understanding the principles, forms and functions of peer review will enable you to write solid, actionable review reports. It will form the basis for a comprehensive, well-structured review, in which you can comment on the quality, rigour, and significance of the research paper, and can identify potential breaches of normal ethical practice.
This may sound daunting but it doesn’t need to be — there are plenty of resources and experts out there to help you, including:
- Peer review training courses and in-person workshops
- Peer review templates
- Expert examples of peer review reports
- Co-reviewing (sharing the task of peer reviewing with a senior researcher)
- Other peer review resources, blogs, and guidelines
We’ll go through each one of these in turn below, but first: a quick word on why learning peer review is so important.
Why learn to peer review?
Peer reviewers and editors are gatekeepers of the research literature used to document and communicate human discovery. Reviewers therefore need a sound understanding of their role and obligations to ensure the integrity of this process, to help maintain quality research, and to help protect the public from flawed and misleading research findings.
Learning to peer review is also an important step in improving your own professional development.
You’ll become a better writer and a more successful published author in learning to review because it gives you a critical vantage point. In accepting peer review requests, you’ll begin to understand what editors are looking for, while keeping abreast of new research and best-practice methods in your field.
Also, as an added bonus, learning to peer review might just save you from an untimely death, if this image by Biologist Michael Eisen (based on the popular 1980’s computer game, Oregon Trail) is anything to go by…
Peer review training courses and in-person workshops
We strongly encourage you to learn the core concepts of peer review by joining a course or workshop. You can attend in-person workshops to learn from and network with experienced reviewers and editors. As an example, Sense about Science offers peer review workshops every year. To learn more about what might be in store at one of these, researcher Laura Chatland shares her experience at the 2019 workshop in London.
There are also plenty of free, online courses around, including the Publons Academy.
The Publons Academy teaches you the core competencies of peer reviewing through practical experience. You will learn all the core concepts of peer review, and then straight away start writing real reviews of preprints or published papers with guidance from your mentor.
Peer Review Templates
Peer review templates are helpful to use as you work your way through a manuscript. As part of our free Publons Academy, you’ll gain exclusive access to a comprehensive template that you can download for use in every review. It offers points to consider for all aspects of the manuscript, including the abstract, methods, and results sections. It also teaches you how to structure your review and will get you thinking about the overall strengths and impact of the paper at hand.
- Publons Academy template (requires joining the free course)
- PLoS’s review template
- Wiley’s peer review guide (not a template as such, but a thorough guide with questions to consider in the first and second reading of the manuscript).
Beyond following a template, it’s worth asking your editor or checking the journal’s peer review management system to learn whether you’re required to follow a formal or specific peer review structure for that particular journal. If no such formal approach exists, try asking the editor for examples of other reviews performed for the journal, which will give you a solid understanding of what they expect from you.
Peer review examples
Understand what a constructive peer review looks like by learning from the experts.
Here’s a sample of pre- and post-publication peer reviews on Publons to help guide you through your first few reviews. Some of these are transparent peer reviews, which means the entire process is open and visible — from initial review and response through to revision and final publication decision. You may wish to scroll to the bottom of these pages so you can first read the initial reviews, and make your way up the page to read the editor and author’s responses.
- Pre-publication peer review: Patterns and mechanisms in instances of endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis
- Pre-publication peer review: Can Ciprofloxacin be Used for Precision Treatment of Gonorrhea in Public STD Clinics? Assessment of Ciprofloxacin Susceptibility and an Opportunity for Point-of-Care Testing
- Transparent peer review: Towards a standard model of musical improvisation
- Transparent peer review: Complex mosaic of sexual dichromatism and monochromatism in Pacific robins results from both gains and losses of elaborate coloration
- Post-publication peer review: Brain state monitoring for the future prediction of migraine attacks
- Publons Academy peer review: Students’ Perception on Training in Writing Research Article for Publication
F1000 has also put together a nice list of expert reviewer comments pertaining to the various aspects of a review report.
Co-reviewing (sharing peer review assignments with senior researchers) is one of the best ways to learn peer review as it gives researchers a hands-on, practical understanding of the process.
In a recent article in The Scientist, the team at Future of Research argue that co-reviewing can be a valuable learning experience for peer review, as long as it's done properly and with transparency.
The reason there’s a need to call out how co-reviewing works is because it does have its downsides. The practice can leave early-career researchers unaware of the core concepts of peer review, and make it hard for them to later join an editor’s reviewer pool if they haven’t received adequate recognition for their share of the review work. (If you are asked to write a peer review on behalf of a senior colleague or researcher, make sure you get recognition for your efforts by using our collaborative reviewer feature).
The Publons Academy is uniquely practical in this sense. The course requires students to gain experience in peer review by practicing the skill on real papers, and by working with their supervisor for feedback. Upon completion of the course, the supervisor will endorse the student, who will then be put in front of top editors in their field.
Other peer review resources, blogs, and guidelines
Here are some external peer review resources found around the web:
- Peer Review Resources from Sense about Science
- Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts by Sense about Science
- How to review journal manuscripts by R. M. Rosenfeld for Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
- Ethical guidelines for peer review from COPE
- An Instructional Guide for Peer Reviewers of Biomedical Manuscripts by Callaham, Schriger & Cooper for Annals of Emergency Medicine
- EQUATOR Network's reporting guidelines for health researchers
Are we missing anything? Get in touch with us and we’ll add it to the list.
And finally, we’ve written a fair few blogs about handy peer review tips. Check out some of our top picks:
- How to Write a Peer Review: 12 things you need to know
- Want To Peer Review? Top 10 Tips To Get Noticed By Editors
- Review a manuscript like a pro: 6 tips from a Publons Academy supervisor
- How to write a structured reviewer report: 5 tips from an early-career researcher
- It’s not the size that matters (blog about peer review length).
Want to learn more? Become a master of peer review and connect with top journal editors as a graduate of the Publons Academy -- your free online course designed by expert reviewers, editors and Nobel Prize winners.