Peer Review of a Manuscript Submission
A How-To Guide for Effective and Efficient Commentary
Scientific publication is fundamentally based on feedback, a process whereby reviewers are asked to evaluate the scientific merits of the submitted manuscript contents and provide feedback.1 It is hoped that through this peer review process, “good science is enhanced and bad science is dismissed.”2 Journal editors will discuss the merits of a manuscript critically informed by the reviews provided.3 An invitation to conduct peer review is a chance to serve as the arbiter of scientific quality and an opportunity to participate directly in the dissemination of new knowledge.
Unfortunately, many reviewers never receive formal guidance or mentorship on how best to review an original research manuscript. With the growth of academic medicine and the proliferation of open access journals, high-quality peer reviews have become even more important to the scientific process. An estimated 2.5 million scientific manuscripts are now published each year,4 and the global scientific output has been doubling every 9 years.5 Accordingly demands on reviewers continue to grow. An estimated 63.4 million uncompensated hours were devoted to peer review in 2015.6 A reviewer’s time commitment likely decreases with experience and familiarity with the science, but our experience consistently suggests that a good review takes an average of 2 to 3 hours.
Therefore, the editors at Circulation: Heart Failure and Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes felt it worthwhile to provide an opinion about what constitutes a great review of a submitted manuscript. Joseph A. Hill, Editor-in-Chief of Circulation, codified the peer review process in simple terms: “Is it new? Is it true? Does anybody give a #*&%?”2 Here, we expand on that sage advice. In addition, after countless hours of personally reviewing manuscripts and reading others’ commentary, we aimed to distill out pearls on how reviewers might do this important and necessary task efficiently and enjoyably.
Reviewing, like medicine, is an art. The best reviews capture the uniqueness of the manuscript combined with the individuality of the reviewer. That said, basic advice and standard guidelines can provide new reviewers with a solid background, improve the review process, and lead to clearer assessments and actions for submitted manuscripts. In general, a reviewer will provide confidential comments to the editor about the manuscript and separate comments to the authors. Just as with the expected order of a manuscript (ie, background, methods, results, discussion), an expected order of commentary helps the reviewer touch on all key aspects of evaluation and helps editors and authors efficiently take in commentary in a logical fashion. Therefore, we propose the following questions to consider when asked to review (Table 1), guidelines for recording commentary (Table 2), and general advice (Table 3). An example of a high-quality review is given in the Data Supplement. New reviewers should feel comfortable reaching out to the associate editor or research mentors for additional advice and feedback, and some journals have even created programs to formalize the training process (eg, http://circoutcomes.ahajournals.org/content/circ-cqo-assistant-reviewer-program).
Ultimately, reviewing manuscripts should be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. For junior reviewers, it is a chance to learn about the process behind the curtain and work on their own scientific communication. For senior reviewers, it is a chance to improve the science and influence what the field sees as important. For both groups, it is quintessential service to our scientific community.
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the American Heart Association.
This article has been copublished in Circulation: Heart Failure.
The Data Supplement is available at http://circoutcomes.ahajournals.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.117.004446/-/DC1.
- © 2017 American Heart Association, Inc.
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- Flanagin A,
- Godlee F,
- Bloom T
- Hill JA
- Burke JF,
- Nallamothu BK,
- Ho PM
- Ahmed R,
- Dunford J,
- Mehran R,
- Robson S,
- Kunadian V
- Kovanis M,
- Porcher R,
- Ravaud P,
- Trinquart L