Best tips for becoming a peer reviewer
There are several steps you can take as an academic to pave the way for a successful publishing career. Regularly reading journal articles in your field is invaluable. Co-authoring papers with colleagues is one way to experience the academic writing process without having to travel that journey alone. Seeking opportunities to write with more seasoned researchers, and avail of their mentoring, is a great way to hone your academic writing skills. Another opportunity you should take advantage of is to serve as a peer reviewer for a journal and experience the review process.
Why become a peer reviewer?
This will help you understand the process from the perspective of a reviewer, and help you become familiar with the most common mistakes academic authors make. You will have the opportunity to read other research, which can help you structure your own academic papers. Peer review is a great networking experience, and you will have opportunities to interact with other academics in your field. You will also read some of the most recent research in your field. Finally, you can include peer reviewer as a service on your professional curriculum vitae.
What does peer review involve?
After you are accepted as a peer reviewer, you will receive an email invitation to review a specific manuscript. Typically, the article abstract will be attached. You will be asked to confirm if this is a paper you can review or not. Once you accept, you will begin the review process.
Most top-tier journals will provide you with a specific structure and format for your review, although some journals are less formal. In a structured review, you will be given specific areas/questions to comment on, and you may be asked to rate each area. These areas generally follow the structure of a typical academic paper. You will be asked to make an overall comment on the article and to select from a list of possible decisions for this manuscript. Typically, these include: Reject, Accept with Major Revisions, Accept with Minor Revisions, Accept.
When you have completed the review, you will need to send back your report. Once the paper is revised by authors according to your feedback, editors often send them out to the same reviewers for a second review.
Peer review for conference papers
Most professional organizations host an annual general meeting to give their members an opportunity to come together and share their research. In order to present at these conferences, you have to submit a proposal for one of the presentation types. For example, you might submit for a poster session, a roundtable, a short paper or a full paper. Submissions, especially for full papers, generally go through a peer-review process. This process is not as indepth as the process for journal articles, but this is a good way to experience the role of a reviewer. Visit the website of any professional organizations to which you belong and note the date of their call for submissions, and if they are looking for peer reviewers.
Tips for becoming a peer reviewer
✓ Pick a known and respected journal:
While reviewing is a worthwhile activity, it is also time intensive. So only offer to review for journals that have a good reputation and are known in your field. One reason to be selective is because reputable journals are better to include on your curriculum vitae. Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to read research by experts in your field and will likely experience a more robust peer review process. Finally, the group of reviewers you interact with is more likely to include well-known and seasoned academics in your area.
✓ Only review in an area connected to your research.
Make sure you don’t overstate your expertise when responding to call for reviewers or reaching out to editors. You certainly want to select a journal in your discipline. In addition to this, you should make sure that you are clear about where your expertise lies, including areas of research, different methodologies, and types of research papers you are qualified to review. This is important to the journal editors, and authors submitting papers, but it is also important to you. Trying to review articles that sit outside of your expertise is never a good idea.
✓ Make sure you allocate time to review.
Don’t choose to become a peer reviewer at a time when you are unusually busy and have many commitments. Academics are always busy and are regularly balancing many different tasks. But it is dangerous to choose to peer review at a time that coincides with an upcoming grant proposal deadline, or a very heavy course load. Try to select a less busy time to take on this role. So, choose a semester with a lighter course schedule, or no upcoming deadlines for proposals to reach out to peer review for the first time.
✓ Contact the editors directly.
Journal editorial boards are always looking for reviewers. You can email the editor directly and express your interest. Tell them a little about you and the research areas where you have expertise. If you have colleagues who serve as peer reviewers, ask them about opportunities to join them in this role. You can also seek out editors at annual conferences or professional organization meetings.
✓ Look for calls for reviewers that are sent out by journals
Look for calls for reviewers that are sent out by journals to researchers on their mailing lists and posted on the journal website. These sometimes appear on the websites of professional organizations and can be distributed at annual conferences.
Understanding how the peer review process works from the inside can help feeling less overwhelmed by the prospect of writing and submitting an academic paper. You get to know journal editors, network with other academics, pick up plenty of ideas for structuring your academic paper and learn how to be successful in building up your list of publications. You will discover how much time reviewers typically dedicate to providing authors with feedback and how valuable that feedback is for strengthening your writing. And, if you get to review a paper through several rounds of revisions, you will truly understand the value of this process when you see how much stronger the paper is by the end. This becomes a motivating factor when you are going through these revisions with your work.
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