The Reviewer experience

Peer review is the key to maintaining the high academic standards of our scholarly journals, yet how often do we think about the external reviewer experience”?


Let’s take a look at the peer reviewer experience and be sure that we are keeping the review process easy enough for our external reviewers to want to contribute their time and energy again in the future. 


What are the necessary elements of the external review?

Asking an external expert to review a document is a complicated process by nature, but let’s break it down to the essential elements. First, the editor in charge of the manuscript invites appropriate reviewers for the manuscript.  The reviewers who accept log into the online system, read the guidelines, write their comments and complete a questionnaire ending with a recommendation. These are the essential elements of the review. How can we keep it this simple?


The Invitation:

The invitation is the very first communication between journal and reviewer. Here it is important to communicate appropriately, Remember that reviewers are typically pressed for time and want to feel that the journal will value their contribution. Keep the message to the point and easy to navigate. An abstract should be included to give an overview of the article at hand and a basis for a decision. The invitation should include a link to the manuscript / review system and should be easy to use to start the evaluation.



After logging in, every reviewer should be made aware of the journal’s general guidelines. Here it can be useful to include a reminder about confidentiality in addition to a request that the suggested revisions be characterized as either “essential” or “desirable”. One might also include a list of, “important topics to consider” upon reading the manuscript, such as: the originality of the study, the appropriateness of the approach, the soundness of the conclusion, etc. Covering all of the necessary topics of consideration in one quick set of guidelines gives your reviewer a good point of departure as well as a sort of “checklist” to refer back to as the manuscript is read.



Next comes the comments section. The purpose of the comments section is two-fold. On the one hand, we would like the reviewer to help the author improve the manuscript for the benefit of the academic community at large, but as editors, we would also like the reviewer’s feedback about the publishing potential of this manuscript.  Keep the comments section manageable. It should not only be shorter than one page, but could also be broken into two sections: one with comments destined for the authors and another, confidential section, with comments to the editor. By breaking the comments into two sections, the reviewer will be encouraged to share valuable insight with the editor that otherwise might not have been shared.



Inevitably, there will be a few standard questions to be asked on every evaluation form. Choose your questions well, and make sure they are the most meaningful for your journal. These questions might deal with topics such as manuscript novelty, relevance for journal scope, or the validity of conclusion. Whatever they should be, do not waste your reviewer’s time with a long list. Restrict the number of questions to 4 or 5 essentials and add a  multiple choice type of answer options to make answering an easy task.



In the end, it is always advisable to ask for an overall recommendation from your reviewer. Knowing whether your external expert concludes that the manuscript should be accepted, rejected or revised provides key input and together with the other reviewer recommendation, setting the tone for the next step in the process.


Reviewer UX

Peer reviewers participate in reviewing manuscripts out of a sense of commitment to their area of expertise, and the overall desire to advance the field. Though there is a certain prestige associated with being asked to review a manuscript, it is still “pro bono” work done in addition to a busy schedule. Keep the review light and easy for the reviewer from invitation through to recommendation. Avoid extraneous elements and complicated instructions. A review that is kept to the essentials and easily performed in an online system will be easy for the reviewer to repeat.




“Let’s take a look at the peer reviewer experience and be sure that we are keeping the review process easy enough for our external reviewers to want to contribute their time and energy again in the future.”

In short:

Having access to the thorough and well-documented thoughts of an peer reviewer will not only guide the author in improving his or her manuscript for the benefit of the field, but will also provide expert input to editors responsible for moving the journal forward. Remember that these external experts are busy individuals working ad honorem. Cover the essentials with a well organized peer review process, but keep it light and easy so that reviewers are likely to contribute again in the future. And remember that best practices include requesting that reviewers update their profile information once in a while so that the journal avoids sending unwanted manuscripts or sending manuscripts to the wrong email addresses.

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