Written by Tim Gardner MD, MS, from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA.
Performing a relevant, helpful review can be a challenge for new and seasoned reviewers alike. It is important to keep in mind that a thoughtful review is not only designed to evaluate the merit of the manuscript for publication, but to also help the authors improve their work. Below are listed some errors that are commonly seen with new reviewers:
- Emotional language – It is very important that the reviewer maintain neutral language and avoid both overly effusive and/or derogatory language. The reviewer must try to remain dispassionate and focus specifically on the merits of the work. It is critical to avoid positive/negative inflammatory language when providing a review. Remember, the reviewer’s primary role is to assist the editorial department in refereeing the manuscript for possible publication.
- Lack of background knowledge – It is the rare review request that will come to a reviewer with complete knowledge of the relevant subject area. It is therefore very important that the reviewer perform a search of the appropriate literature. I would suggest performing this search after the first read through the manuscript so that it can be more focused. Reviewers should not rely on the cited works in the manuscript under revision for background knowledge.
- Inappropriate brevity – As above, editors are really relying on the reviewer to provide an in-depth evaluation of the manuscript under review. It is therefore critically important that reviews dedicate the appropriate time to comprehensively evaluate the manuscript. For an original article, reviewers should expect to spend at least 1-2 hours reviewing the manuscript. Reviewers should try and make at least 5 major points about the manuscript to the editorial board in their review – major points generally center on study design, statistical analysis and appropriate conclusions.
- Overlooked tables and figures – It is crucial for reviewers to critically evaluate tables and figures – this is often overlooked. Make sure that the results in the tables and figures match with the results in the text and that the data is accurate.
- Lack of an opinion on publication worthiness – At the conclusion of their review, reviewers should state their opinion about the worthiness of the manuscript for publication. This should not be sent to the authors, but it does give the editorial board important insights into the relative value of the contribution under consideration.