At JMBFS, we strongly believe that peer review serves as the cornerstone for ensuring the quality and integrity of scientific and scholarly research. We are committed to providing extensive support and recognition to reviewers (also referred to as „referees“) due to their valuable contributions. These guidelines have been established as part of our overarching objective to enhance the review process for our journals and uphold the research integrity of the publications we disseminate.
What is peer review?
Peer review is a critical evaluation process that aims to assess the validity, quality, and often the originality of articles before they are published. Its primary objective is to uphold the integrity of scientific research by filtering out articles that are invalid or of poor quality.
From a publisher’s standpoint, peer review serves as a content filter, directing higher quality articles to reputable journals, thereby establishing strong journal brands.
The inclusion of articles in the peer review process adds value to them. Consequently, publishers must ensure that the peer review system is robust to maintain the credibility and reliability of published research.
How to perform a peer review
Once you have received or accepted an invitation to peer review an article, it is time to commence the task. Below, you will find a set of guidelines and a step-by-step guide to assist you in conducting your peer review effectively:
Ethical Reviewing: Upholding the Standards
Embrace the most comprehensive set of publishing ethics guidelines in the industry. We firmly believe that ethical publishing fosters a stronger research community, where every individual’s contributions are valued, and accountability is paramount.
Familiarize yourself with JMBFS’s editorial standards and processes, including the intricacies of peer review. COPE, serving over 8,500 members worldwide, provides valuable resources such as practical tools, e-learning opportunities, seminars, and more. To ensure integrity in the peer review process, COPE has developed Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers, which editors and their editorial boards can consult for guidance. Explore these guidelines on COPE’s webpage, Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers.
Reviewing guide – step by step
The Initial Assessment
Upon receiving the invitation to review, you should have access to the article abstract, providing an overview of the manuscript’s objectives, essential data, and conclusions. If any of these aspects are unclear, make a note to provide feedback on how to enhance those sections.
The first read-through entails a quick skim-read. It allows you to form an initial impression of the paper and gauge whether your ultimate recommendation will lean towards acceptance or rejection.
Key Considerations During the Initial Read
During the skim-reading process, it is beneficial to have a pen and paper nearby.
Consider the following questions as they will assist you in forming an overall impression:
- What is the primary research question addressed in the study? Is it relevant and engaging?
- How original is the topic? Does it contribute something new to the field compared to existing published material?
- Is the paper well-written? Is the text clear and easily understandable?
- Do the conclusions align with the presented evidence and arguments? Do they effectively address the main research question?
- If the author’s stance significantly contradicts the current academic consensus, do they present a compelling case? If not, what additional elements would be necessary to strengthen their argument?
- If the paper includes tables or figures, do they enhance the content? Do they aid comprehension, or do they seem unnecessary?
Identifying Potential Significant Flaws
While reading the entire paper is important, strategic selection of what to read first can save time by identifying major issues early on.
Editors highly appreciate „specific recommendations for remedying flaws.“
Examples of potential major flaws include:
- Drawing conclusions that contradict the author’s own statistical or qualitative evidence.
- Using discredited methodologies.
- Neglecting to consider influential processes relevant to the studied area.
When experimental design is prominent in the paper, prioritize evaluating the soundness of the methodology. Flaws in this area are likely to be significant.
- Sampling methods in analytical papers.
- Proper use of control experiments.
- Accuracy of process data.
- Consistency of time-dependent sampling in studies.
- Validity of research questions, detailed methodologies, and systematic data analysis in qualitative research.
- Adequate incorporation of descriptive elements and appropriate quotes from interviews or focus groups in qualitative research.
Significant Flaws in Information
If methodology is of lesser concern, it is often beneficial to start by reviewing the data tables, figures, or images. In scientific research, the quality of gathered information is crucial. Critical flaws in this aspect may warrant rejecting the manuscript. Examples of such issues include:
- Insufficient data.
- Unclear or poorly structured data tables.
- Contradictory data that lack internal consistency or disagree with the stated conclusions.
- Repetitive confirmatory data that does not significantly contribute to the existing understanding, unless strong arguments for such repetition are presented.
If you encounter a major problem, document your reasoning and provide clear supporting evidence, including relevant citations.
Concluding the Initial Reading
After completing the initial read and referring to your notes, including any major flaws you identified, you can begin drafting the first two paragraphs of your review. The first paragraph should summarize the research question addressed and provide an overview of the paper’s goals, approaches, and conclusions. It should:
- Help the editor gain a proper understanding of the research and support your evaluation
- Inform the author about the key messages conveyed to the reader, ensuring they are achieving their intended goals
- Highlight the successful aspects of the paper, allowing the author to recognize their strengths
The second paragraph should offer a conceptual overview of the research’s contribution. Consider:
- Is the premise of the paper interesting and significant?
- Are the methods employed appropriate for addressing the research question?
- Do the presented data effectively support the stated conclusions?
By drafting these two paragraphs, you will be able to determine whether the manuscript is significantly flawed and should be rejected (as discussed in the next section), or if it has the potential for publication and warrants a detailed, thorough review.
Rejection Following the Initial Reading
Even if you are leaning towards the conclusion that an article has significant flaws, it is crucial to read the entire paper. This step is essential because you may come across positive aspects that can be conveyed to the author, offering constructive feedback for their future submissions.
Completing a full read-through will also ensure that your initial concerns are valid and fair. It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the entire paper before making a decision to recommend rejection. If you still intend to suggest rejection, please refer to the section titled „When Recommending Rejection.“
Prior to Commencing the Second Read-Through
After completing the initial read and determining that the article is potentially suitable for publication, the purpose of the second, more detailed read-through is to assist in preparing the manuscript for publication. However, it is still possible to consider recommending rejection after the second reading.
One important aspect to remember is to provide clear suggestions on how the authors can address the concerns raised. It is valuable to offer solutions when identifying problems.
To streamline the review process and save time, consider the following:
- Instead of solely relying on inserting comments directly into the manuscript document, make separate notes.
- Group similar concerns or positive feedback together to enhance organization.
- If utilizing a review program that allows annotations on the manuscript, still group concerns and positive feedback in separate notes for ease of reference.
- Take note of line numbers corresponding to the text being referenced in your notes. This facilitates revisiting specific items and assists readers who review your feedback.
- Keep images, graphs, and data tables easily accessible. Print them out or have them displayed on a second computer monitor or window.
Now that you have completed the necessary preparations, you are ready to dedicate approximately an hour to carefully reading through the manuscript.
Conducting the Second Read-Through
During the second read-through of the manuscript, it is crucial to focus on the construction of the argument and the clarity of language and content.
Regarding the construction of the argument, pay attention to:
Any instances where the meaning is unclear or ambiguous.
Identification of factual errors.
Assessment of the validity of arguments presented.
Whether the title accurately reflects the subject of the paper.
Whether the abstract provides a concise summary of the paper.
Whether the keywords effectively represent the content.
Evaluation of the paper’s length in relation to the content.
Assessment of the clarity, accuracy, and conciseness of the key messages.
Check the Language
Not all submissions are well-written, and part of your role as a reviewer is to ensure the clarity of the text.
Editors emphasize that if a manuscript has significant English language and editing issues, reviewers should not attempt to fix them. Instead, note these issues in your review, and it should be the responsibility of the authors to have the manuscript edited.
If the article is difficult to understand but you grasp the core message, consider suggesting improvements to address the language problem:
Identify aspects that could be communicated more effectively, such as sections of the discussion.
Encourage the authors to consider resubmitting the paper to the same journal after improving the language.
Indicate whether you would be willing to revisit the paper once these language issues are addressed.
Grammar and Punctuation
As a reviewer, your primary focus is on evaluating the research content rather than polishing grammar or spelling. Editors will ensure that the text meets high standards before publication. However, if you come across grammatical errors that impact the clarity of meaning, it is important to highlight them. Expect to suggest necessary amendments, as it is rare for a manuscript to pass review without any corrections.
Section by Section Guidance for the Second Read-Through:
- The Introduction:
- Ensure that the introduction effectively sets out the argument and summarizes recent research related to the topic.
- Identify any gaps in current understanding or conflicts in current knowledge that are highlighted.
- Evaluate whether the introduction establishes the originality of the research aims by demonstrating the need for investigations in the topic area.
- Assess if the introduction provides a clear idea of the target readership, explains why the research was conducted, and emphasizes the novelty and topicality of the manuscript.
- Pay attention to the references cited in the introduction, ensuring they are recent and relevant to support the arguments.
- Materials and Methods:
- Verify that the research follows best practices, ensuring replicability, repeatability, and robustness.
- Assess if the research incorporates control experiments, repeated analyses, repeated experiments, and proper sampling to eliminate chance and allow for reproducibility.
- Evaluate the level of detail provided in the methods section, making sure it is sufficient for other researchers to replicate the study.
- Consider the adequacy of the data points and whether there is any potential bias that may affect the reliability of the data.
- Check if the research adheres to standard guidelines, maintains ethical standards, and does not compromise the health and safety of participants.
- Results and Discussion:
- Ensure that the results section clearly describes the data and incorporates appropriate statistical analyses.
- Evaluate whether the results are evaluated and their significance explained in relation to existing published research.
- Verify if the discussion provides a critical analysis of the collected data and integrates all the information into a coherent whole.
- Identify any gaps or inconsistencies in the story presented and assess if the authors address these and suggest future research directions.
- Check that the conclusions reflect upon the research aims and are not surprising or unsupported.
- Ensure that the conclusions are evidence-based and aligned with the findings presented in the paper.
- Information Gathered: Images, Graphs, and Data Tables:
- Evaluate the presentation of images, graphs, and data tables for clarity and coherence.
- If any information is unclear or lacks a clear story, suggest improvements in titles, labels, statistical notation, or image quality.
- Verify the plausibility of the results and assess if they support the discussion and conclusions.
- Check if there is sufficient data to support the trends described by the authors.
- Flag any concerns about edited or manipulated images without appropriate explanation to the editor in a confidential comment.
- List of References:
- Check the accuracy, adequacy, and balance of the references.
- Ensure that references supporting the author’s argument are accurate and properly formatted.
- Assess if the referencing is adequate and if there are any important studies that should be included but are missing.
- Evaluate the balance of the references, considering their relevance, recency, and retrievability.
- Verify that the reference list is helpful to readers, fair to competing authors, and not overly reliant on self-citation.
- If you come across a similar paper or suspect plagiarism, address the concern appropriately.
- Advise the author on emphasizing the novel aspects of their study to differentiate it from similar research if possible.
- If the similarities render the work unoriginal, recommend rejection.
- Notify the editor of any suspected plagiarism, including self-plagiarism, if you cannot recall or locate the specific source.
- Editors have access to plagiarism detection software to further investigate the concern.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
- Evaluate whether the title, abstract, and keywords are optimized for search purposes.
- Assess if the title and abstract are clear and effectively reflect the aims of the research.
- Consider if the abstract adequately highlights the important findings of the study and presents the most interesting data.
- Provide feedback on
Structure of your report
The structure of your report can be divided into three sections: summary, major issues, and minor issues. Here’s a breakdown of how to structure each section:
- Start with positive feedback to engage the authors.
- Provide a brief overview of what the paper is about and summarize the findings.
- Place the findings in the context of existing literature and current knowledge.
- Indicate the significance of the work and whether it is novel or confirmatory.
- Highlight the strengths, quality, and completeness of the paper.
- Mention any major flaws, weaknesses, or special considerations, such as overlooked theories.
- Major Issues:
- Identify and clearly state any major flaws in the paper and assess their severity.
- Check if similar work has been published without acknowledgment by the authors.
- Evaluate if the presented findings challenge current thinking and whether the evidence provided is strong enough.
- Assess if the authors have cited all relevant contradictory work and addressed it appropriately.
- If major revisions are required, provide clear indications of what changes should be made.
- Evaluate if there are any major presentational problems, such as unclear figures, tables, language, or manuscript structure.
- Address any ethical issues and disclose them in the confidential comments section if necessary.
- Minor Issues:
- Identify areas where the meaning is ambiguous and suggest how it can be clarified.
- Check the accuracy and correctness of the references cited. Recommend additional or alternative citations if needed.
- Identify any factual, numerical, or unit errors and provide specific details.
- Evaluate the appropriateness, sufficiency, and accuracy of tables and figures. Point out any labeling issues or missing elements.
Remember to provide constructive feedback in a professional and objective manner throughout your report. Use clear and concise language to convey your points effectively.
Style and presentation
When it comes to the presentation and style of your review, it’s important to keep in mind the following guidelines:
- Politeness and Honesty:
- Maintain a polite and respectful tone throughout your review.
- Be honest in your feedback, but avoid being harsh or overly critical.
- Remember that your goal is to help the author improve their article.
- Clarity and Understandability:
- Write in a clear and concise manner.
- Use language that can be easily understood, even by non-native English speakers.
- Avoid using complex or uncommon words that may confuse readers.
- Structure and Referencing:
- Number your points to provide a clear structure to your review.
- When making specific comments, refer to page and line numbers in the manuscript.
- If you have been asked to focus on specific parts or aspects of the manuscript, clearly indicate which areas your comments pertain to.
- Objectivity and Constructiveness:
- Strive to be objective in your evaluation of the manuscript.
- Focus on providing constructive feedback that helps the author improve their work.
- Avoid subjective opinions or destructive criticism.
- Treat the Author’s Work as You Would Like Your Own to be Treated:
- Approach the review process with professionalism and respect.
- Provide feedback with the intention of helping the author enhance their article.
- Remember that you are part of a collaborative and supportive scholarly community.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your review is effective, helpful, and respectful to the author’s work.
Criticisms & Confidential Comments to Editors
When providing criticisms and confidential comments to editors, it’s essential to maintain professionalism, fairness, and a focus on the integrity of the review process. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Maintain Professionalism:
- Remember that your comments are part of a scholarly and professional communication process.
- Use a respectful and constructive tone in your feedback.
- Avoid personal attacks or derogatory language.
- Focus on Ethical Concerns:
- Confidential comments to editors are an appropriate place to raise concerns about suspected plagiarism, fraud, unattributed work, unethical procedures, duplicate publication, bias, or conflicts of interest.
- Clearly and objectively state your concerns, providing any evidence or supporting information available to you.
- Avoid making assumptions or unfounded accusations. Stick to the facts and evidence at hand.
- Avoid Backstabbing or Unfair Criticism:
- Remember that authors do not have access to the confidential comments to editors.
- Write your comments as if the authors might eventually read them, maintaining fairness and professionalism.
- Focus on providing constructive feedback that helps improve the article or address ethical concerns, rather than expressing personal biases or animosity.
- Be Specific and Provide Evidence:
- Clearly state the issues or concerns you have identified, providing specific examples or references when possible.
- If you suspect plagiarism or unethical practices, provide details and references that support your claim.
- Offer suggestions or recommendations on how the issues can be addressed or resolved.
- Maintain Confidentiality:
- Respect the confidentiality of the review process and avoid discussing the manuscript or your review with anyone other than the editors.
- Do not disclose any confidential information or the details of your review to the authors or any third parties.
By adhering to these guidelines, you can ensure that your criticisms and confidential comments to editors are fair, objective, and focused on maintaining the integrity of the research and publication process.
When making a recommendation, it is important to follow the guidelines provided by the journal. Here are some general considerations:
- Acceptance Recommendation:
- If you recommend acceptance, provide a detailed explanation of why you believe the manuscript should be accepted.
- Highlight the strengths and contributions of the work.
- If there are areas for improvement, mention them constructively and suggest how the authors can enhance their manuscript.
- Revision Recommendation:
- If the manuscript requires revisions, specify whether it is a major or minor revision.
- Clearly outline the specific changes and improvements that need to be made.
- Optionally, indicate whether you would like to review the revised version of the manuscript.
- Rejection Recommendation:
- If you recommend rejection, clearly state your decision in your review.
- Provide a thorough and objective assessment of the reasons for rejection.
- Offer constructive feedback on the fundamental flaws or weaknesses that led to your decision.
Remember, regardless of the recommendation, it is crucial to support your judgment with evidence, specific examples, and clear reasoning. Your feedback should be helpful, respectful, and focused on the improvement of the manuscript.
In addition to the recommendation, ensure that you provide detailed comments and suggestions to the authors on how they can address the issues raised or improve their work. This will assist them in understanding your decision and guide their revisions, if applicable.
If recommendation is rejection
When recommending rejection, it is important to provide constructive feedback to help the authors improve their research and understand the reasons for the rejection. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Focus on the Research:
- Keep your comments focused on the content, methodology, and overall quality of the research.
- Avoid personal attacks or criticism of the author. Remember, your goal is to help the authors improve their work, not discourage them.
- Provide Constructive Feedback:
- Clearly explain the flaws or weaknesses in the manuscript that led to your recommendation for rejection.
- Offer specific suggestions on how the authors can address those issues or improve their research.
- Be specific, objective, and provide evidence or examples to support your critique.
- Be Polite and Encouraging:
- Maintain a polite and professional tone in your feedback, even if you recommend rejection.
- Encourage the authors to continue their research and acknowledge any positive aspects of their work.
- Remember that the authors may not understand why their manuscript has been rejected, so it is important to provide them with feedback on how to improve their research.
- Avoid Critical Confidential Comments:
- While providing confidential comments to the editor, be mindful of the tone and content.
- Avoid overly critical or harsh language that may not be helpful to the author.
- Focus on the objective assessment of the manuscript and its suitability for publication.
By providing constructive criticism, you help the authors understand the shortcomings of their work and provide valuable insights to the editor for making an informed decision. Balancing your feedback between positive aspects and areas for improvement ensures a fair and clear evaluation of the manuscript.
To be a Reviewer
Become a Reviewer
Becoming a reviewer in the academic publishing process can be a valuable opportunity to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and enhance your own research skills. Here are some key points to consider:
- Expertise in the Field: To become a reviewer, you should have expertise in the specific research field of the manuscript under review. This expertise can be demonstrated through your academic qualifications, research experience, publications, and professional reputation.
- Invitation from Editors: Editors often invite researchers who are knowledgeable in a particular area to review manuscripts. When you receive an invitation, the editors should clearly outline the aspects they would like you to assess, even if the overall topic is slightly outside your primary area of expertise.
- Assessing the Manuscript: As a reviewer, your primary responsibility is to evaluate the manuscript critically. You should have sufficient knowledge to assess the research design, methodology, analysis, and interpretation of results. Providing constructive criticism to both the editors and authors is essential for improving the quality of the manuscript.
- Career Stage: Being a reviewer is not limited to any specific career stage. Whether you are a junior researcher or an established expert in your field, your insights and expertise are valuable for the peer review process. Reviewing manuscripts can also help you stay updated with the latest research trends and enhance your own research and writing skills.
- Professionalism and Ethical Conduct: Maintain professionalism and integrity throughout the review process. Adhere to confidentiality requirements, respect the intellectual property of others, and avoid conflicts of interest. Provide honest and constructive feedback, focusing on improving the quality of the manuscript rather than criticizing the authors personally.
Remember, being a reviewer is a responsibility that requires diligence, objectivity, and dedication to the scholarly community. By actively engaging in the peer review process, you contribute to the advancement of knowledge and the quality of scientific publications.
How to become a Reviewer
Indeed, there is no fixed path to becoming a reviewer, and different opportunities may arise based on individual circumstances. Here are some common routes to consider:
- Recommendation from a Colleague: If you know someone who is already involved in reviewing for a journal, you can ask them to recommend you as a potential reviewer. Their endorsement can carry weight and increase your chances of being considered.
- Networking at Conferences: Attending professional conferences provides an excellent opportunity to network with editors and other researchers in your field. By engaging in discussions and sharing your expertise, you may establish connections that lead to reviewing invitations.
- Membership in Learned Societies: Joining a learned society relevant to your research field can connect you with other professionals in the same domain. Active participation and networking within the society can help you build relationships with potential editors and increase your visibility as a potential reviewer.
- Direct Contact with Journals: Some journals openly advertise their need for new reviewers or maintain a database of potential reviewers. You can proactively reach out to these journals to inquire about their current reviewer needs. Provide them with your qualifications, expertise, and research interests.
- Mentorship from Senior Colleagues: Establishing a mentorship relationship with senior colleagues or experienced researchers can be valuable for your professional development. They may guide you in the review process, share their reviewing opportunities, or even delegate review tasks to you.
- Delegation from Senior Researchers: Working closely with senior researchers on collaborative projects or as a member of their research team can lead to opportunities for peer review. Senior researchers may delegate reviewing duties to junior members, offering you hands-on experience in the process.
Remember, building a reputation as a reliable and knowledgeable researcher in your field is crucial for attracting reviewing opportunities. Actively participate in scholarly activities, publish your own research, and engage in academic discussions to enhance your visibility and credibility as a potential reviewer.
Building confidence as a Reviewer
Building confidence as a reviewer can be a gradual process, but there are steps you can take to gain the right experience and develop your skills. Here are some suggestions:
- Seek Guidance from Experienced Colleagues: Reach out to more experienced colleagues who have been involved in peer review. They can provide valuable insights, share their experiences, and offer guidance on how to approach the review process effectively. Their advice can help you gain confidence and navigate potential challenges.
- Utilize Available Resources: Take advantage of resources available to you, such as online guides, workshops, or websites that offer tips and guidelines for reviewing manuscripts. The information provided on such platforms can help you understand the expectations and best practices of peer review, as well as provide guidance on evaluating manuscripts and providing constructive feedback.
- Find an Experienced Mentor: Consider finding a mentor who is experienced in peer review. This mentor can provide ongoing support, review your feedback before submission, and offer personalized advice to help you improve your reviewing skills. Having a mentor to guide you through the process can boost your confidence and accelerate your learning.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Process: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the peer review process. Understand the different stages involved, from receiving the manuscript to submitting your review. Review journal guidelines and instructions to ensure you meet the specific requirements of each review. By understanding the process, you can approach it with more confidence and clarity.
- Start with Journals Seeking New Reviewers: As a new reviewer, target journals that actively seek new reviewers or are open to expanding their reviewer pool. These journals often have mechanisms in place to support and guide novice reviewers. Being part of such journals can provide you with opportunities to gain experience, receive feedback on your reviews, and enhance your skills.
Remember, building confidence as a reviewer takes time and practice. With each review you complete, you will gain valuable experience and become more comfortable in your role. Don’t be discouraged by initial uncertainties; instead, view them as opportunities for growth and improvement.