Timo Rath, MD, from the Ludwig Demling Endoscopy Center of Excellence, University Hospital Erlangen, Erlangen, Germany offers advice to new reviewers after participating in GIE’s Reviewer Mentorship Program.
Reviewing is an important part of my clinical and scientific endoscopic activities that I would not want to miss. Reviewing cutting-edge papers definitely improves my daily endoscopy practice. When writing these lines, for example, I still have my own feelings in mind when I was reviewing one of the earlier papers on cold-snare polypectomy: I immediately realized that this is something that I can easily adopt that will tremendously affect and change my own endoscopy practice in the near future. Further, reviewing papers provides a key impetus for my own endoscopic studies. I do believe that endoscopy is one of the most rapidly developing fields in gastroenterology and by reviewing papers, I can directly see months before the actual publication what others with similar research interests are currently curious about and what questions they are currently tackling.
For me, this is an important, if not the most important, stimulus for developing new ideas and questions. Finally, by reviewing papers, my own research certainly gets better: when reviewing, one major focus that one needs to pay careful attention to is certainly the methodology that a paper uses to address their questions. With this being said, I am certainly more vigorous and more critical about my own trials, and it has been more thatnonce that my own studies have been directly influenced by studies that I have been reviewing, leading to a better set-up in my own stuff. Therefore, reviewing is not only about criticizing a paper, it is also about learning how things can be made better!
Finally, reviewing allows me to see new techniques and technologies way ahead. And by seeing evolving and new approaches for existing diseases, this important foresight enables you to envision how endoscopy practice and endoscopic patient care will be improved once these new approaches become streamlined.
One major struggle when reviewing papers is certainly how to fit them into an already busy schedule and how to free enough time for a thorough and fair assessment of the paper. Here is my approach: whenever I get invited to review a paper, I try to have a glance at the paper on the day I accept the invitation or the day after. Since these days are mostly packed already, I use the short break in between endoscopic procedures to read parts or paragraphs of the paper, then go back to the endoscopy suite, and after finishing the next endoscopy, I read the next paragraph and so on. With this “fragmented” reading I have the study in the back of my head during the day and start to think about the different parts of the study step by step and can really digest the different aspects of a paper. By the end of the day, I have the full paper read, and I use my way home (a 7K bicycle ride) to think about the paper as a whole.
After this, I let my impression of the manuscript sit for a while and then reserve an evening to complete my review. During this, I read the manuscript again as a whole, recapitulate my initial thoughts when having read the manuscript in a fragmented fashion, and if I still feel that these are valid, start to include them in my structured critique.
How do I approach a manuscript submission, and what are my principles in recommending acceptance or rejection? To me, it as simple as: if the methodology is appropriate for addressing the research question, this is the basic requirement that all studies need to meet. If the study is then new and innovative or has a “fresh idea,” adds relevant knowledge to either daily routine, the community, or will stipulate the field, these are the criteria that make it likely that I recommend acceptance. I always feel, from a perspective of a submitting author of my own work, that it is extremely important to be as specific as possible. Whenever possible, I try not only to criticize the methodology, but I also make concrete suggestions on how it can be improved. So even if the methodology is not flawless initially, this gives the authors the possibility to adjust or incorporate these suggestions, and in some cases, this can make the difference between “major revision” and “reject.” This is especially important for studies with a fresh idea that are initially not perfect in the methods part.
Needless to say, the decision about acceptance or rejection is made by the Editors. So whenever I write my critique, I try to see my critique from the Editors’ angle and ask myself the following: can the editors understand the question that is addressed in the paper, the major results, and their relevance for the community? Did my critique, in between that criticism that is naturally raised during the review, also identify the strengths of the work? In my opinion, it should really be the goal to give the Editors the full picture. Rather than purely criticizing, my aim is to provide a complete yet concise overview of the paper that the Editor can use to assess the manuscript even, in theory, without having read the manuscript in full detail him- or herself.
So, in summary, reviewing is a central part for improving endoscopic care and endoscopic research, and a good and thorough review is certainly the key to further advancing the field and the community. Is providing good reviews time consuming? It certainly is. But it is so rewarding and something that I would never want to miss.