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I've just been invited, for the first time, to review an article. The request was somewhat of a surprise to me, as I'm still a PhD student and I'd always thought that reviewers were generally PhD graduates. Judging by the article's abstract, I am moderately familiar with the subject area, as my master's thesis was on a similar topic. The article would appear in an online journal and would be relatively short (6-8 pages). I assume that my review would be anonymous.

I'm unsure whether to accept the invitation as I'm quite busy with my research.

If I agree to review the paper, what will be expected of me? How much time can I expect this to take?

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For a scientific, experimental paper, a peer reviewer should consider these issues:

  • Are the topic and results appropriate for the journal? If not, there is little point in reviewing other aspects of the paper as it is sure to be rejected.
  • Is there a hypothesis?
  • Are the methods complete?
  • Were appropriate control experiments performed?
  • Are there conclusions?
  • Are the conclusions motivated appropriately?
  • Do the methods support the conclusions?
  • Are the graphs/illustrations readable and do they convey useful information?
  • Is the research ethical?
  • Is the research placed in context with the literature?
  • Is information taken from references accurate, or at least plausible?
  • Are the results likely to be reproducible?
  • Is the writing intelligible?

The answers should all be yes.

In my experience many reviewers also identify typos in the paper. I only do that if the typos are in technical information or make the paper incomprehensible. Most journals pay a copyeditor whose job it is to correct ordinary spelling and grammar errors.

The reviewer needs to write a report. The report includes numerical ratings on scales provided by the journal. The report should:

  • Summarize the paper in a few sentences, clearly identifying that the reviewer read the correct paper.
  • Identify the main strengths of the paper. Sadly this can, at times, be hard.
  • Identify the main weaknesses of the paper. If the paper needs revision, then all weaknesses which need correction should be listed.
  • Each weakness should be numbered and its location in the paper should be specified. This is to assist the editor and future reviewers in checking to see if the revisions were made.
  • Recommend an action the editor can take.

The reviewer is not responsible for telling the authors how to improve their paper.

There is no way to predict how long a review will take until you have read the paper. It varies widely.

If the reviewer has a conflict of interest, this must be disclosed to the editor. Example conflicts of interest are:

  • Reviewer works for the same organization as an author.
  • Reviewer might make or loose money if the article is published.
  • Reviewer is friends with an author.
  • Reviewer has published work or applied for funding with an author.
  • Reviewer considers an author to be a family member.
  • An author has offered the reviewer a bribe.
  • Reviewer intends to publish a paper addressing the same hypothesis.
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    Thank you for this thorough answer! I've chosen to review the paper and I'll be using this as a guide :)
    – dB'
    Apr 23 '20 at 13:57
  • "The reviewer is not responsible for telling the authors how to improve their paper." By identifying the main weaknesses of the paper that needs revision, aren't you telling the authors how to improve their paper?
    – kjacks21
    Jan 17 at 1:30
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Reviewing peer articles is part of a researcher's job, it's good you get to review an article, the fact you built your master's thesis on it probably means you can have a relevant opinion.

A review typically takes half a day in my experience, could be more depending on how familiar you are with the material, and you were probably given this review by a senior colleague that is part of the PC and will read your review before it goes to the actual journal.

Just read it slowly, note your "small comments" on the fly (typos, language etc separately) and then try to give an overall view of whether you liked the paper (e.g. an easy way is to make a small 2/3 line summary of each section as you understood it) and the gist of it as you see it. A review isn't much more than that. Being constructive in criticisms is a good practice

So, imho this is part of the job, and you should take the time to do it. It is experience building to review other people's papers.

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    A caveat: one should check if the journal is reputable, it's also possible to get spam review requests from unknown/predatory venues.
    – GoodDeeds
    Apr 21 '20 at 20:04
  • Definitely agree with this @GoodDeeds comment, if you just got this review out of nowhere from a predator type journal just go ahead and refuse it. I was assuming you were asked/recommended to do this review by a senior colleague.
    – Yann TM
    Apr 21 '20 at 20:09
  • It's not scammy/predatory journal; definitely reputable. I received the invitation from an "Associate Editor" at the journal, who I do not know.
    – dB'
    Apr 21 '20 at 20:29
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    it's probable he first contacted someone senior you do know in your entourage who slipped your name knowing you have worked on similar subjects then, so I stand by my advice to just do the review as best you can.
    – Yann TM
    Apr 21 '20 at 20:51
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If you have never published a paper and gone through peer review as a first author I would strongly discourage you from peer reviewing solo. Even if your technical and field knowledge is excellent, you should be supervised by someone experienced at the process.

If you have an advisor who can mentor your peer review, and would agree to do so, this would be an excellent opportunity to involve them.

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    If the journal is reputable, they should not ask somebody to review a paper whose expertise they cannot judge. That means that the editor should either know the OP personally (which is not the case here) or from their publications.
    – Uwe
    Apr 22 '20 at 17:28

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