Peer reviewing – some advice

Peer-reviewing well is an art. The balance between diving into details and having a broad discussion about the consequences of the research results can be difficult, but with preparation the peer review can be interesting for the whole auditorium!


The background should rouse the interest of the reader, be factual, brief, and address what is relevant for understanding the problem. Did the author succeed with this? Does the background have a lot of "dead weight" in the form of side issues and in-depth discussions that do not really help understanding? How did the author use references? Are they relevant for the field? Are the references selected to fit in with the purpose of the author or is also research that do not fit represented?

Is there a clear-cut purpose?

Is the purpose of the work meaningful/clinically relevant? The purpose is often a concluding ending of the background/introduction and should be a logical consequence. An unclear purpose is sometimes veiled by many and vague words. A clear purpose cannot be misunderstood. Clarity is also important in order to assess if the methods used are relevant.

Can the purpose be achieved by the chosen method?

Conversely: Is the method appropriate/viable for the chosen framing of the question? The chosen method should be accepted and preferably standardised in the current field of research. If not, it should be clearly stated why the author chose not to use the standard method, for example because it is not sensitive enough for this particular experiment or that it is too expensive etc. At worst, the method measures something other than what was being looked for and then the purpose falls by the wayside. Are there flaws in the method/execution worth discussing?

Are the results reasonable?

Are the results reasonable and in line with previous studies? Significant deviations from the expected results can indicate method errors or that something has gone wrong in, for example, the selection of subjects? Did these particular laboratory animals happen to be different from the usual ones? What statistical tests have been done and are they relevant to this particular comparison? Is the number of interviewees/patients sufficient?

Are the discussion and conclusions in line with the results?

If not, how does the author deal with it in the discussion section? Are there other interpretations than those the author? Is the discussion based on the results? Are there things that seem to have been omitted? How does the author deal with “deviating” results? Are there genuine criticisms of the author’s own method or are the restrictions addressed by the author only mandatory?

Are the texts placed under the right heading?

Perhaps the most difficult task is to write materials and methods, results and discussion in the right place. Did the author manage it?

What about all the spelling errors?

The oral peer review should address the content of the paper, not its form. If the peer-reviewer has opinions about the form of the paper, they should be expressed in writing, as comments in the draft of the paper which the peer-reviewer has received.

The short time the peer-reviewer, the respondent and the auditorium have for each paper is too valuable to spend on “On page five you forgot a comma on the third row from the end”. The most important thing for the oral peer review is to be about the scientific work and not getting caught up on the language or layout of the report.

Back to the Guide to written and oral communication