PLOS editors offer their advice for becoming a great peer reviewer | We’ve asked some of PLOS’ most experienced editors for tips and advice to take your peer review skills to the next level. Here’s what they had to say.
PLOS Peer Review Toolkit
Ask the Editors
We’ve asked some of PLOS’ most experienced editors for tips and advice to take your peer review skills to the next level. Here’s what they had to say.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Great Peer Reviewers
Be objective....
The best reviewers are those who can remain conscientiously objective in their assessment; they will make clear what are the pros and cons, if there are any truly fatal flaws and what they consider to be the way forwards for a manuscript.
Emma Ganley, Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Biology
Be decisive...
If a paper has some major flaws, there’s a tendency to suggest “major revision” when “reject” is more appropriate. Conversely, when it is clear the paper is a valuable contribution but the reviewer goes through repeated rounds of more analyses and more experiments which in the end doesn’t change the specific contribution of the paper but only adds more content...To ask for
experiments or analyses that don’t really get at the heart of what the paper is about and thus just add “extra.”
Jason Papin, University of Virginia, Editor-in-chief of PLOS Computational Biology
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you completed your first review?
Be constructive...
It’s a fine line between being constructive and basically suggesting a completely different set of experiments or a different paper. At the end of the day you’re judging the paper that you get. You’re not there to tell the authors to do something completely different.
― Elhanan Borenstein, University of Washington, Associate Editor for PLOS Computational Biology
Be willing to consider other points of view...
In the response to reviewers authors sometimes defend their original viewpoint and choose not to make changes suggested by reviewers. Often this is done for very good, justifiable reasons and it’s the authors’ prerogative to make methodological or conceptual choices that set the boundaries of their paper. As a reviewer, this might mean a relinquishment of power – just a little bit – and admit
that your viewpoint does not stand up. If you can do this, then you have one of the hardest-won attributes of a great and trustworthy peer reviewer. ― Gemma Derick, Lancaster University, Section Editor for PLOS ONE
Be frank...
Sometimes reviewers include very negative points, and indicate that the paper should be rejected in the confidential comments to the Editor, but their comments to the authors are completely positive. It can be difficult for authors to understand the decision since it’s not reflected in the reviewer comments that they receive. When crafting your review, try to make sure that the comments to the authors reflect the outcome that you consider appropriate for the manuscript. Emma Ganley, Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Biology
Think of the best review you ever received. What made it so good?
Be ready to learn...
My post-doctoral advisor, Dr. R. Michael Roberts, had the biggest influence in how I peer review. His best advice was to see if all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together and provide a coherent picture of the studies. He also emphasized to me, and I have come to appreciate more and more, that the best work does not always come from Ivy League Universities. ― Cheryl Rosenfeld, University of Missouri Columbia, Section Editor for PLOS ONE
It is always important to remember that all aspects of a researcher’s career need to be balanced and considered to meet career development goals. You can get too burdened with peer review, but you can also be too dismissive about peer review. Contributing to peer review makes you a better researcher. Jason Papin, University of Virginia, Editor-in-chief of PLOS Computational Biology
Remember the Golden Rule...
The same researcher may play the part of author one day and peer reviewer the next. It’s easy for people to feel impatient when an elevator doesn’t stop at their floor—until they get in and start feeling impatient when it stops at other floors. Keeping this common identity in mind can lead to more clearly written manuscripts and more helpful reviews. The best peer reviews don’t rate a paper.
They engage with it. Peer review at its best is a constructive process, not an evaluative one. Larry Peiperl, Editor-in-Chief of PLOS Medicine
Words of Wisdom
Don't be discouraged...
Publish your data. Use journal rejections to improve manuscripts but don’t give up. Just find another journal and put your research out there. It is important to publish research findings. Even studies that seem too small will be useful eventually because they will be picked up in meta-analyses. Replication of findings is very important. Many ideas that seem established at the time are later
found to be not quite right, in parts because authors don’t bother to publish negative results. Susanne Hempel, RAND Corporation, Section Editor for PLOS ONE
Do you have a question for the PLOS editors? Email it to us, and we’ll consider it for a future issue.
Twitter Facebook Email Website
Public Library of Science
1160 Battery St. Suite 225
San Francisco, CA 94111