Finding the right reviewers for every submitted manuscript can be difficult, so journal editors are always on the lookout for new peer reviewers. Beyond simply ensuring the chosen reviewers have the right expertise to properly review a submission, it’s also important for editors to use a diverse pool of reviewers. This means using academics at different stages of their career, including early career researchers (ECRs). Getting involved in peer review can be particularly helpful for ECRs looking to develop in their careers.
But how can you build the skills you need to become a peer reviewer, if you’ve never done it before? And once you have those skills, how can you ensure that the editors choose you to review the next submission?
We asked Nazira Albargothy, 2016 winner of the Vitae Three Minute Thesis ® (3MT) competition for her advice on getting started with peer review. Here are her top tips…
Despite the vital role peer reviewers play, it’s rare for journals to provide any formal training. So you need to be proactive, and develop your skills and understanding of the peer review process by using online resources.
There are a range of different training resources available for free, including online courses like the Publons Academy or the ACS Reviewer Lab.
In 2019, Taylor & Francis launched the Excellence in Peer Review: Taylor & Francis Reviewer Training Network to support researchers in becoming more effective reviewers through in-person workshops and online resources, such as our best practice on how to write a review, and a checklist for reviewers. You can find out more about the first workshops in this series here, including their key features and benefits.
Once you’ve done some initial training, it’s time to put it into practice. Platforms like PubMed and PubPeer allow its users to comment on published manuscripts as part of a post-publication peer review (PPPR) initiative. This is a great way to put your new skills to use, and also see the kind of comments other peer reviewers have made on a manuscript.
Consider asking your supervisor if you can assist with peer reviews which they are currently writing. You will also need the journal editor’s consent for this to happen, but it’s not uncommon, and can be a useful way of getting feedback from a trusted source on your own reviewing skills.
You might also want to practice peer reviewing papers written by your colleagues. This more informal, pre-submission peer review is common practice among researchers anyway, but is a great way to hone your skills (and will help them to develop their manuscripts further before submitting to their chosen journal).
So, now you’re ready to write your first official peer review. But how do you secure the invitation to review?
Start by creating a list of journals in your subject area who you want to review for. Do your research online, browsing by subject area or keywords to find the most relevant titles. Target a small number of journals which most closely match your areas of expertise. Read up on their aims and scope. Browse recent issues to see what kind of papers they publish. You might even be able to find their reviewer and author guidelines, or an editorial policy for the journal online.
Throughout this research stage you should be able to whittle down your list to just a few targeted, relevant journals which are most closely linked to your expertise and research interests. Editors will be more likely to contact you for a peer review if they can see a clear link between a submitted manuscript and your own expertise, so it pays to be diligent at this stage.
Some journals advertise a ‘Call for Peer Reviewers’ on their website. It’s relatively rare, but worth checking in case you can simply register your details through a journal’s online submission site, rather than reaching out separately via email.
Once you know the journals you want to review for, it can help to use your academic and professional networks to find a connection. This could be a colleague, mentor, or supervisor who knows the editor. Some journals have large editorial boards, so check the online board listing in case you know someone who could introduce you.
This isn’t a mandatory step in the process, but it can help to have a personal introduction or mutual connection when reaching out to a journal.
And finally, don’t worry if you don’t have a connection to the journal – you can still contact the editor directly without a personal introduction. Contact information is usually available from the journal’s homepage – on Taylor & Francis Online, you can find this information in the Editorial Board tab.
If you can’t find an email address on the journal website, try looking for the editor’s institutional profile instead, or reach out to Dr Diana Marshall, Head of Reviewer Programmes at Taylor & Francis.
When you contact an editor:
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back from your chosen journals, as it may take some time before they receive a submission which is particularly relevant to your expertise. If your application to become a peer reviewer is declined, make sure you ask for feedback so that you can improve your chances of success with a different journal.