Reviewers are integral to the academic publishing process. Their unbiased, constructive feedback not only helps authors further develop or refine their ideas, but it also helps editors more accurately assess the potential impact a manuscript might have on the field. We provide the following resources to help reviewers write the best reviews possible.
What the Best Reviewers Do
These tips for reviewing were collected in the spring of 2022 from the POD Network listserv. We asked: If you have received a great review on one of your manuscripts or have figured out how to give great reviews to others, we’d love to hear about it. Here's a representative sample of what we received.
The best advice I've received for reviewing articles was from an editor who frequently reminded us to "review the article that was written, not the one that you wish had been written or the one that you would have written." (13-year reviewer; 7-year POD member; anonymous)
Think of reviewing as engaging in constructive, collegial conversation aimed at personal and professional growth (not as an opportunity to attack or belittle or dismiss or destroy). Start by affirming what is important about/working well in the manuscript and why; this both affirms authors' efforts and makes them more open to constructive feedback. Remind authors that comments are offered in the spirit of support and with the goal of making the manuscript more accessible and/grounded in or important steps beyond existing conversations. State explicitly that comments are offered with the goal of supporting development/improvement. Be concrete/specific about recommended revisions—detailed recommendations rather than general critiques or requests are much more helpful. Provide full citations for relevant references and indicate why/how the manuscript could contribute to or expand ongoing conversations. (20-year reviewer; 12-year POD member; Alison Cook-Sather)
After I read a manuscript, I pause to imagine a human being / human beings on the other side of it--regardless of how I react to what I've read. At times I can't fathom how I'm going to possibly say what I think I need to say in terms of critique (that praise comes more easily), so I write my reviews with the kinds of constructive honest and specific feedback in mind that I would like to receive if it were me on the other end. I work to be generous and supportive even as I am honest and suggest how the writer's / writers' work could meet a higher standard in the categories I've been asked to respond to. If possible, I suggest other outlets that might be more appropriate, or I mention other work in the field I would encourage the writer(s) to incorporate or explore. I work not to say simply what I think isn't working, rather, as with the work of a student writer, I suggest what would help the reader to follow an argument, to be more convinced, etc. I give examples where possible of what I mean so there is no ambiguity--which is hard when a writer can't consult the giver of the feedback for clarification. (20-year reviewer; 24-year POD member; anonymous)
I have found that more specific feedback is helpful to authors and to editors working with them. This includes references to specific page numbers and even inclusion of excerpts in the review that point to the concern being noted by the reviewer... I tend not to focus on mechanics unless they are truly getting in the way of my comprehension... I also think it is important to highlight key strengths of the article and how it will be of use and of interest to the specific audience the journal targets, including ways it adds something new to the scholarly exchange around a given topic. (28-year reviewer; 25-year POD member; anonymous)
Great reviewers use their strengths to guide their reviews. This means that if your strengths are in a specific realm a statistical method perhaps, or conducting research from a specific segment in the field, this is where your review should be rooted. Once it is rooted there, share references, give examples, guide the author as to what could work to boost the value of their manuscript towards the field. (10+year reviewer; Camille Dickson-Deane)
When reviewing a manuscript, I position myself in the role of a critical friend. Then I offer feedback to support the author in crafting a contribution that will be of use to the particular audience. (25-year reviewer; 19-year POD member; anonymous)
[L]eave copy editing to the copy editors. Reviewers should focus on the big ideas: Adequacy of the literature review, logic and organization of arguments, soundness of methodology, and interpretation of findings. (20-year reviewer; 16-year POD member; anonymous)
Don't commit to too many reviews--set a target for yourself, and then leave room for one or two extra in case an editor has an urgent need. (13-year reviewer; 4-year POD member; anonymous)