In this blog post, Pia Kreijkes offers advice about the peer reviewing process and reflects on why early career researchers should engage in peer review.
Producing well-argued, coherent and scientifically sound papers can be challenging. That is not only true for early career researchers, including PhD students, but also for more established academics. Accordingly, we all depend on the feedback and advice of peers to ensure the quality of our work. Peer reviewers can offer authors a fresh view of their manuscript, raise critical questions about aspects that may need more clarity, or point out arguments that cannot be justified based on the nature or scope of the study.
The reasons why we all need peer reviewers is rather obvious. A little less apparent is why we ourselves should contribute to peer review and, even less so, if we decide to act as reviewers, how to go about it.
In this blog post, I will therefore offer some reflections on why students should engage in peer-review, as well sharing insights from two workshops on the peer reviewing process hosted by the Cambridge Open Review Educational Research e-Journal (CORERJ) team in June 2017.
The Reasons Why You Should Peer Review
You should contribute to the scientific community. We all benefit from the feedback of our peers, so it only seems fair to give some of it back.
Researchers share an ethical responsibility to ensure high quality work. It’s important that researchers, including students, participate in the process that ensures the quality of our own as well as others’ work. Having a control system in place increases the credibility of research so that we can contribute to the understanding or bettering of social phenomena.
You can learn from others. Conducting a peer review gives you the chance to reflect on another author’s work, which might help you draw important lessons for your own writing. For me, this is the most valuable aspect, particularly as a non-native English speaker – my own writing improved considerably through this process.
It looks good on your CV. Being a peer reviewer demonstrates that you engage with the scientific community. This is beneficial to your CV.
How To Peer Review
Journals use different review formats, such as checklists, written feedback, or even in-text comments. In the CORERJ journal, where I am part of the editorial team, we use a checklist and ask reviewers to provide more detailed feedback on every unsatisfactory aspect of that list, for instance the sophistication of the argument. The checklist is rather self-explanatory, so have a look at it here: http://corerj.educ.cam.ac.uk/editorial/.
A reviewer is further asked to give an overall recommendation for the editors regarding whether to accept, reject but reconsider for future resubmission, or reject the manuscript. CORERJ is an open-review journal, which is why the initial anonymous peer review stage is followed by an open review. Once authors have incorporated the reviewers’ feedback, the article is placed on the CORERJ website , where everybody can leave comments that are visible to the public.
Further advice regarding how to approach a review can be found in the very useful Step by Step Guide to Reviewing a Manuscript by Wiley. Based on my own reviewing experience, I have three general guidelines to add:
Don’t take it too lightly. This might sound obvious but my general advice is to put as much effort and care into your reviews that you wish reviewers of your own work would provide to you. Peer review as a quality control can only work if the reviewers and editors are thorough and take great care.
Be aware of your own biases. You may be asked to review a manuscript that is not in line with your own beliefs, may it be in terms of the intellectual position or the methodology. If you think that you cannot offer an unbiased view, point this out to the editors. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t review the piece, but it’s crucial that you make your own stance clear when giving feedback and that you explain why you don’t agree with a given approach or position.
Be polite. Your responsibility towards the authors is to help them improve their manuscript. As we probably all know, when we receive purely negative and unconstructive feedback, the motivation to invest further effort drops considerably. Hence, always be polite. Even when you reject a manuscript, explain your negative evaluation in detail and try to suggest how flaws could be corrected. Finally, keep in mind that giving credit where it’s due is part of a balanced critique and, thus, a crucial aspect of the process.
If you now wonder how you can contribute as a reviewer, I would like to refer you to the CORERJ open-review site. You can participate in open reviewing without having to register first. The open review phase usually runs from June to August, and the journal is then published in early autumn. If you want to be involved in the anonymous peer review process, you can complete the CORERJ registration form. You can also find CORERJ on Twitter and Facebook .
If you ask me, it’s never too early (or too late) to become a reviewer, and a student journal such as CORERJ is a great place to start. You will grow with your tasks and, thus, become more skilled over time. Happy reviewing!
Pia Kreijkes began her PhD at the Faculty of Education and Christ’s College in Cambridge in 2016. Her mixed-methods study examines the role that different teaching practices play in the development of pupils’ achievement-related beliefs about mathematics, particularly their mindset. More generally, her research interest lies in motivational influences on school achievement. Pia has been a reviewer for a student journal in the Netherlands for many years, and she also worked as a student editor for the Psychology blog of the University of Groningen. She is now a reviewer and assistant editor for CORERJ. Please contact her if you have any questions about her research or reviewing at firstname.lastname@example.org.