Tips on writing a manuscript review

Dr. Julia LiuWritten by Julia J. Liu, MD, MSc, FASGE from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

As you open your inbox, an invitation for manuscript review catches your eye. It is your research area, but it’s been a while since you wrote your last review, or this is your very first review request. Although every journal have specific instructions for authors, most journals do not furnish the reviewers with instructions for a structured review. In this series, I (and a few others) will try to provide you – the reviewer – with some tips to facilitate the exciting process of manuscript review.

The reviewing process

1. Be thorough
It is generally a good idea to review the manuscript in its entirety before writing the comments to an editor/author, or consider whether it should be accepted or rejected. After all, no matter how bad the manuscript appears, the author(s) has put in a significant amount of effort in writing it and deserves a fair, objective, and complete review.

2. Stay objective
The manuscript may present findings that are contrary to what is currently known as “the truth.” For gastroenterologists, the story of Helicobacter pylori as the etiologic agent for gastric ulcer should serve as a reminder that we should not immediately reject a paper that presents results against the conventional paradigm. If you find any part of the results questionable, do a “second look,” i.e. go through the manuscript at least twice so you read what’s in it and stay as objective as possible.

3. Take notes
Similar to any learning process, be sure you take notes of what was being presented in the manuscript. Notes do not have to be written; it could be highlighted text, notations in the paper itself, or just mental note. A paper will often report novel findings, or at least confirmation/validation of existing information that was recently published.

4. Check for accuracy
An important role for the reviewer of a manuscript is to ensure the accuracy of the methods, results, and references in the manuscript. You are chosen for your expertise in the field. If you are uncomfortable with the method or technique used in the paper, try to learn more about it or in some instances, it may be more appropriate to decline the review.

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