When you get an invitation to review a manuscript for a journal, what’s the first thing you should do? How do you decide whether to accept or decline? If you say yes, then what?
This guide walks you through the process of responding to an invitation and provides quick tips for getting ready to do the review once you’ve accepted the invitation.
First of all, it’s okay to decline the invitation. You do not have to say yes to everything! If you have doubts about your ability to do the review, it is much better to say no up front than to step down later on.
When to Say Yes
If you are interested in reviewing the manuscript, make sure it’s a good fit for you by asking yourself three questions. If you can answer yes to all three, go ahead and accept the invitation.
1. Am I the right person to review this manuscript?
You should only review a manuscript if it matches your area of expertise. Even if the topic sounds fascinating, don’t agree to review if you do not have the expertise.
If you’re not sure you have the right expertise, or if you think you could provide an expert evaluation of one aspect of the manuscript but not all of it, get in touch with the journal to see what they need.
No matter what, it’s important that you feel comfortable offering your opinion.
2. Do I have time to do the review by the journal’s deadline?
Don’t overcommit: make sure you have enough time to provide a thorough review. If you want to review but think you might need extra time to get it done, let the editor know as soon as possible so that they can alert the author or contact another reviewer if necessary.
3. Can I provide an objective review?
Before you respond to the invitation, check the author list in case you have past or present collaborations with any authors, or any other potentially competing interests. You should decline the invitation if an outside observer might reasonably feel that your review was negatively or positively biased by a competing interest.
If you’re not sure if you have a competing interest, or think you have one but it won’t compromise your objectivity, get in touch with the journal. The journal might want you to review anyway, depending on the situation.
Competing interests for reviewers
Whether you accept or decline the assignment, try to respond to the invitation as quickly as you can. It’s not fair to the authors to keep them waiting.
Tip: Declining an invitation
You can still be helpful to the journal even if you decline an invitation to review. Tell the journal if you know of other researchers who might be qualified to review the manuscript. This will help keep the review process moving quickly.
It’s also a good idea to let the journal know why you’re declining the invitation. For instance, if you said no because you don’t have the right expertise, the journal will know to contact a different reviewer for similar papers in the future. But if you decline because you don’t have enough time, the journal can keep you in mind for a similar assignment later on.
Once you’ve accepted the invitation, get yourself prepared to do the review. Here are three quick things you can do that are helpful to check sooner rather than later:
- System access. Make sure you can sign in to the peer review system and access the manuscript and other submission files.
- Journal guidelines. See if the journal has specific guidelines for reviewers. Are there special instructions or other things to take into account? What are the criteria for publication? Keep these expectations and standards in mind from the very beginning.
- Review structure and format. Make sure you know how your review will need to be formatted. Does the journal want you to respond to specific questions in a structured reviewer form? Will you need to recommend a specific decision action, e.g., major revision? You might also want to find out whether the journal has an open review option. Decide whether or not you will sign your name to your review.
Tip: Managing your workload
It’s up to you to decide if you have enough time to take on a reviewing assignment. If you find yourself getting a lot of invitations, it can help to set a goal or limit for how many assignments to take each week or each month.
If you’re having trouble fitting your reviewing work into your schedule, think about setting aside a specific time each day (or each week) to work on your reviews. Mark this on your calendar to make it more official.
Do you have another tip for managing your workload as a reviewer? Share it with us!
Now you’re ready to start your review! Move on to our next guide about how to read a manuscript when you’re reviewing it.