A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Peer Review

The formula for writing a peer review is an organized process, but it’s easy to do when you follow a few simple steps. Writing a well-structured peer review can help maintain the quality and integrity of the research published in your field. According to Publons, the peer-review process “teaches you how to review a manuscript, spot common flaws in research papers, and improve your own chances of being a successful published author.” Listed below are four key steps to writing a quality peer review.

1. Read the manuscript in its entirety

It is important to read the manuscript through to make sure you are a good fit to assess the research. Also, the first read through is significant because this is when you develop your first impression of the article. Should a reviewer suspect plagiarism of any kind, s/he should contact the journal office at managingeditor@sae.org.

2. Re-read the manuscript and take notes

After the first read through, you can now go back over the manuscript in more detail. For example, you should ask the following questions about the article to develop useful comments and critiques of the research and presentation of the material:

  • Is this research appropriate for the journal?
  • Does the content have archival value?
  • Is this research important to the field?
  • Does the introduction clearly explain motivation?
  • Is the manuscript clear and balanced?
  • Is the author a source of new information?
  • Does the paper stay focused on its subject?
  • Are the ideas and methods presented worthwhile, new, or creative?
  • Does the paper evaluate the strengths and limitations of the work described?
  • Is the impact of the results clearly stated?
  • Is the paper free from personalities and bias?
  • Is the work of others adequately cited?
  • Are the tables and figures clear, relevant, and correct?
  • Does the author demonstrate knowledge of basic composition skills, including word choice, sentence structure, paragraph development, grammar, punctuation, and spelling?  

Please see SAE’s Reviewer Rubric/Guidelines for a complete list of judgment questions and scoring criteria that will be helpful in determining your recommendation for the paper.

3. Write a clear and constructive review

Comments are mandatory for a peer review. The best way to structure your review is to:

  • Open your review with the most important comments—a summarization of the research and your impression of the research.
  • Make sure to include feedback on the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of the manuscript. Examples and explanations of those should consume most of the review. Provide details of what the authors need to do to improve the paper. Point out both minor and major flaws and offer solutions.
  • End the review with any additional remarks or suggestions.

There can be various ways to write your review with the structure listed above.

Example of comprehensive review

Writing a bad review for a paper not only frustrates the author but also allows for criticism of the peer-review process. It is important to be fair and give the review the time it deserves. While the comments below may be true, examples are needed to support the claims. What makes the paper of low archival value? What makes the paper great? In addition, there are no comments for suggestions to improve the manuscript, except for improving the grammar in the first example.

Examples of bad reviews:

  • Many grammatical issues. Paper should be corrected for grammar and punctuation. Very interesting and timely subject.
  • This paper does not have a high archival value; should be rejected.
  • Great paper; recommend acceptance.
4. Make a recommendation

The last step for a peer reviewer is making a recommendation of either accept, reject, revise, or transfer. Be sure that your recommendation reflects your review. A recommendation of acceptance upon first review is rare and only to be used if there is no room for improvement.