Working with editors

Editors rely on reviewers’ recommendations to help them decide whether to accept or reject an article. This section will help you understand exactly what it is that editors are looking for from a good peer review.

Your Expertise

When an editor invites you to review, they will mention if there is a particular aspect of the paper that they would like you to look at. This is because sometimes editors may invite reviewers with expertise in certain areas, e.g., the methodology or the statistics used in the study – even if they know you don’t work in the subject area of the manuscript. If that is the case, it’s good practice to state at the beginning of the review that you will only be commenting on that aspect of the paper.

If you’re not sure why you were asked to review a paper, ask the editor who invited you to review. Editors prefer that you contact them with questions, rather than you not respond or not complete the review.

The Role of Your Recommendation

It’s down to the editors to make a decision about the paper. This will be based on your recommendation and comments, and their own reading. It is worth repeating that the editor’s decision will not always match yours, so you should not mention it in comments to the author.

Comments to Editors and Authors

The editor not only uses reviewer comments to help make a decision. They will often refer to them in their decision letter.

With this in mind, it’s helpful to editors if you:

  • Number your comments
  • Are clear about which points are absolutely critical if the paper is given an opportunity for revision
  • Suggest how authors can address any concerns raised

Specific recommendations for correcting flaws are very welcome by editors and useful to authors.

Remember, it’s especially important that your comments match your recommendation. If you’re recommending that the paper be rejected, your comments should clearly state what the problems are and they should not be excessively positive or seem to contradict your recommendation.

It can put the editor in an awkward position if they are seen to disagree with your recommendation or your comments.

Keep in mind that comments to editors should only be used for notes that you don’t want the authors to see. Anything that is important for the authors to know should be in comments to the authors, not the comments to the editors.

Once the editor has made a decision and the author has been notified, you will normally receive a copy of the letter that will include any other reviewers’ comments.

In the Editors’ Own Words

“When I have divergent opinions on a manuscript, I lean toward the reviewer who made the better job in commenting on the manuscript. If a reviewer suggests a rejection, but her/his comments are not detailed or helpful, it does not help me.”
- Carlo Brugnara, MD, Editor in Chief, American Journal of Hematology

“It’s particularly unhelpful when the reviewers indicate in the comments what their recommendation is. This creates situations where they state the paper should be accepted when the other reviewers (and editor) believe it should be rejected. It puts the editor in a very tough position.”
- Jonathon Halbesleben, the Editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology

"If you aren't sure why you were asked to review, please ask questions of the editors. The editors would rather answer your questions and provide you with more information than not have you respond or review."

"Be mindful of what journal you're reviewing for. Is it a big, more general journal or a specialty journal? The review needs to reflect and respect the audience of that journal."

"Detailed edits are always appreciated, they make our job easier."

"When a manuscript has divergent opinions, editors lean toward the reviewer who made the better job in commenting on the manuscript."