SAGE Advice: Tips From Top Peer Reviewers

SAGE recently announced an extended partnership with Publons, adding a massive 1,000 journals to the network for automated reviewer recognition. To help us celebrate, neurophysiologist Jeremy Bland and a handful of other top peer reviewers for SAGE shared their background in research and review, and offered some tips for those reviewers new to the scene...

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Neurophysiologist Jeremy Bland offers top reviewing tips for new academics

                   Dr. Jeremy Bland

                 Dr. Jeremy Bland

Neurophysiologist Jeremy Bland knows a thing or two about peer review. He spends his working hours seeing patients and advancing his research in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and fills his spare time enhancing manuscripts in his field via peer review.

With an honorary lecturer status at King’s College London, and working at the East Kent Hospital's University NHS Foundation Trust, UK, Jeremy is the top reviewer for SAGE's Journal of Hand Surgery (European Volume) on Publons.


Publons: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your research?

Jeremy: I’m a full time NHS consultant neurophysiologist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, Kent, UK. I have no paid academic appointment but I have honorary lecturer status at King’s College London where I do some teaching and examining. I spend all of my ordinary working week seeing patients, and carry out research and reviewing in my spare time. For the last 25 years I have had a research interest in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and have collected data systematically on every patient who is referred to my diagnostic service for possible CTS, leading to the creation of a database of currently 47,086 patients, 29,588 of whom have CTS documented on nerve conduction studies.

As well as carrying out primary research that is mainly performed using this patient database I also try to read everything published in English on carpal tunnel syndrome. Most of my work on CTS is summarised on my website which not only provides patient information on the disorder but also hosts a diagnostic questionnaire, developed from the database, which uses artificial intelligence techniques to analyse the symptoms reported by the patient. This is surprisingly accurate at estimating the probability of CTS from a patient completed symptom questionnaire. I have also been active in developing the use of ultrasound imaging of peripheral nerve in the UK as a diagnostic modality. I help to run the British Society for Clinical Neurophysiology and the British Peripheral Nerve Society.

What do you consider the most important aspect of peer review?

Improving the quality of the papers that are accepted for publication. Better papers will often benefit from a new perspective provided by a reviewer and I very much appreciate the thoughtful comments which my colleagues provide on my own submissions.

Better papers will often benefit from a new perspective provided by a reviewer and I very much appreciate the thoughtful comments which my colleagues provide on my own submissions

You're the top reviewer contributing to SAGE's Journal of Hand Surgery (European Volume), on Publons - how do you feel about that?

I am a prolific reviewer for Journal of Hand Surgery not because I’m particularly good, but because my area of expertise concerns an extremely common condition that is very easy to write papers. There are therefore a lot of submissions, many of them of not much scientific merit, I’m sorry to say. More important than sheer numbers is the feedback I get from editors from time to time indicating that my efforts are appreciated. I review for about 20 journals in total I think - I’ve lost count.

What was your first peer reviewing experience like?

Too long ago for me to remember! I’ve been doing this for 10 years or more, though the amount has increased significantly in recent years. The most rewarding reviews to carry out are those which challenge my own preconceptions and theories about CTS.

The most rewarding reviews to carry out are those which challenge my own preconceptions and theories about CTS.

The theme for PRW18 is "Diversity and Inclusion" in peer review. What does this mean to you?

It is important that scientific writing is subject to a wide range of scrutiny. I always enjoy reading the comments of others who have reviewed the same paper. Though we often pick up on the same points it is rare that we will exactly duplicate one another’s thoughts on a paper and I continue to learn about experimental methodology and clear writing from the editors and reviewers who I work with. I like to think that this is improving my own writing as time goes by.

Do you have any advice for early career researchers starting out in peer review?

  • Keep to your areas of expertise
  • Try to be constructive by suggesting ways to improve a paper, but don’t be shy about pointing out major methodological failings
  • Use checklists such as CONSORT to remind yourself of things to be considered
  • Always read others' reviews of papers you have reviewed when they are sent back to you
  • Don’t take on too much - if you really don’t have the time, say so rather than provide a cursory review

What are you working on next in your research?

I’m currently concentrating on the role of local corticosteroid injection in the treatment of CTS and the use of ultrasound imaging in the diagnosis of neurological peripheral nerve and muscle disease.

Main photo courtesy of Amber Case.