Checklist for peer review

Are you undertaking your first peer review, or looking to train a class of students? This post provides an in-depth, step-by-step, guide for reviewing research articles developed in collaboration with Prachee Avasthi, which can be downloaded here.

The checklist is to help you consider what aspects of a paper that might be assessed, and by completing it you will have the basis of a reviewer report. But this is only part of the review process. There are some great resources that can also help you with:

  • What to consider before accepting to review. Guidelines produced by Taylor & Francis include questions to ask yourself before accepting to review (to which I would add – always consider whether you have appropriate expertise to assess the work). The guide also includes some useful sample comments.
  • How to structure your reviewer’s report. There is a lots of great information packed into Wiley Online Libraries’ ‘Step by Step Guide to Reviewing a Manuscript’, and it is particularly useful when trying to understand the difference between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ issues as well as how to drafting your review.
  • Understanding the role of a reviewer. The Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) – provides a useful description of what is and is not expected from you as a reviewer in their​ Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers, and introduces the concept of providing constructive feedback.
  • How to gain experience of peer review. We highly recommend checking out PREreview, which is a fantastic way to get involved as well as providing useful feedback to authors on preprints. We have also begun to establish a reviewer pool, with the aim increasing opportunities for early-career researchers at society journals, and non-predatory open-access publications. In addition there are various pieces of advice on the American Physiology Society (APS) website.
  • All of the above. The PLOS ECR community have put together a great resource to get you started, with a host of links to a range of topics here.

The checklist is subject independent; there are likely to be specific aspects to consider for each discipline, so it is always worth searching out the most common mistakes made in your field before beginning to review – as these are the first things you can look for. A couple of good examples include: 5 points by Tracey Weissgerber relating to animal studies and common statistical errors by Gillian Worthy.

There is also a good blog on common errors to avoid when starting to review here, most notably – new reviewers are frequently too harsh in their judgement, it always helps to consider whether it is 100% necessary to address the issue you identified before committing it to the report.

Finally, if we were to give one piece of advice when starting out it would be: follow the golden rule – ‘treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself’ – everything else flows from there.

The checklist can be downloaded either excel, word or PDF format. However, we would recommend the excel format as it provides the best functionality. Please feel free to modify and improve as you see appropriate.


The image featured at the top of the article is by Nic McPhee

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