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When reviewing a paper for peer review, I consistently find that I spend way more time on a paper than if I were just reading it for understanding.

How can one increase the speed at which they review papers, without compromising on the quality of the review?

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    You shouldn't! Keep the habit of being a thoughtful, careful reviewer! – David Ketcheson Oct 2 '13 at 12:10
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I think speed primarily comes with experience. Reviewing will nevertheless take lots of time for good reasons. Unlike when you read a manuscript (MS) for referencing in a MS of your own, you need to read everything. You also need to think about what has been referenced in detail and evaluate if omissions have been made in the referencing. You need to look at figures and tables for errors or problems, or just to suggest improvements. If you can, you also can or should comment on the language and structure of the paper. To cap off, you probably need to read the paper more than once, perhaps not in the same detail but one read is not enough. In all, this takes time. With each review this may become easier and you will be able to expedite the review.

I personally probably spend around a working day on a normal MS. Early in my career it may have taken twice the time. Some MS may take even longer. I don't think there exist any dependable short-cuts apart from being well read-up on the subject in general, and being experienced in reading and commenting on MS and reports. I am, however, convinced that the larger reductions in time occur early on since the benefits of experience comes quickly.

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    I have the impression that the most important influencing factor is outside your control: the quality of the paper. Very good papers are a pleasure to read and review. Exceptionally bad papers are not a pleasure, but are quick to review. In between these 2 extremes, worse papers take longer to review in my experience. (This assumes that you accept reviewing only for topics you are reasonably familiar with already) – cbeleites Oct 1 '13 at 19:41
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You will get better at this as you gain experience… but it will/should never be a blazingly fast process. The two reasons you will become faster at it are:

  1. You gain more experience in the process itself, as Peter says.
  2. As time goes by, you will probably give up faster on very bad papers. I remember one of my first reviews, where I wrote 2 pages of minute review of a paper, concluding that it should be rejected without a doubt for lack of originality (giving a reference to earlier work which the authors had re-discovered). Now, I would not bother with the in-depth review when it has become clear that the manuscript should be rejected.

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