7 top tips for reviewing a clinical manuscript
1. Follow the basic principles of peer review
The basic tenets of peer review apply to all types of manuscripts, even those with a professional or practitioner target audience. If this is your first review or you need a refresher, our Top Tips for Peer Reviewers
page covers the basics.
2. Keep the target audience in mind
A clinically focused manuscript should supply the latest research to make sound decisions for practice. As you read, check to see if the author(s) is looking at a clinical problem, rather than a research question, and assess the tone to see if it is straightforward and speaks to the clinician.
You should also consider if the manuscript has citations to recent, relevant studies and diagrams or tables useful for clinical situations. Lastly, judge whether or not the discussion uses the findings to lead to a new understanding of clinical problems and/or therapies.
3. Look for a well-organized structure
Clinical practitioners are busy and the research they read needs to be organized. When you are reviewing the manuscript think about how appealing it is. Do you find it easy to identify the key points? Is it clear what areas are less important and can be skimmed over by a busy practitioner? Is the structure of the manuscript consistent with that of the journal?
4. Consider the application to professional practice
The manuscript you are reading should emphasize its potential impact on practice. A strong manuscript will include details on how the research or intervention could be implemented. An even stronger manuscript will also include information like clinically applicable screening tools and patient/consumer-friendly education sources.
5. Establish the elements of the case study
If a case study is included, only the essential elements should be presented. Case studies can be a useful way to introduce materials, but a clinician does not always have time to read a full case study. Look to see that the key details are presented and if other information has been included in figure or table format (i.e., laboratory values, chronology of key events, photographs, etc.).
If the case study is a real patient, the patient and his/her family should not be identifiable. If the manuscript does not clearly state if the patient is real, your review should ask for clarification.
6. Watch out for conflicts of interest
Authors must disclose any conflicts of interest (COI) in the manuscripts. A COI could arise if an author is paid by a commercial entity to write the article, do the research, or compile the review. If a third party, writes an article that is submitted by another individual (sometimes referred to as “ghostwriting”), this must also be stated.
A true conflict may not exist, but reviewers should be given all the disclosure information. If you feel that something is missing, tell the editor and mention it in your review.
Further, if you feel that you have a potential conflict of interest with the manuscript, notify the editor immediately.
7. Confirm that human (or animal) participants were properly protected
All research must conform to the certain ethical standards that protect both human participants and experimental animals. The authors must include a statement to that effect in the manuscript, even when the institutional decision was to exempt the research from informed consent procedures. If the statement is missing, notify the editor as some journals will not accept research without this statement.
These tips and more advice on reviewing can be found in "Reviewing Journal Manuscripts." An easy to follow guide for any nurse reviewing journal manuscripts for publication by Charon A. Pierson, Editor-in-Chief Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.