Becoming a peer reviewer
for journals

What makes a good journal reviewer?

A good reviewer can provide a good-quality review, which demonstrates sound understanding of the scope of journal to which the paper they’re reviewing has been submitted. A good reviewer is also one that recognises their own field of expertise – if you are invited to review a paper that is out of scope of your research area, it is worth declining to review, rather than providing a poor review and not being invited again.

Providing good reviews will often mean that you are invited back to review, from which you can build a relationship with the editorial team.

When thinking of peer review, you may relive a dreaded ‘Reviewer 2’ conversation with colleagues who have had their manuscripts reviewed in an often arduous and drawn-out process.

Keep feedback constructive, and don’t hesitate to celebrate the strengths of the paper. Ask yourself: if you were the author, what feedback would you find most useful?

The peer review landscape is often threatened by poor research practices including misinformation, gift authorship and false papers.

Paired with a lack of good-quality and experienced reviewers, many journals struggle to find reviewers for their manuscripts. This leaves plenty of opportunities to present yourself as a good and reliable reviewer.

Section 1

Peer review resources

How do I become a reviewer?

Look for journals in your field of expertise and learn about their aims and scopes and what trends they are publishing, so that if you were to review for them, you could understand if a paper is a good match for their mission and values.

You can contact the journal editorial team or editorial assistant to get more information on what they look for in reviewers, how much reviewer feedback influences a final decision on a manuscript, and if they are currently looking for reviewers.

Journals also may put out calls for reviewers, so keep an eye out on social media channels and journal web pages.

You can find the contact details of the editorial team on the relevant journal page. 

Find a journal

Where can I get training?

There are existing reviewer training courses available from Web of Science, Nature, and Elsevier to name a few.

Conferences and groups such as Peer Review Week and the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE) often host interactive workshops led by industry specialists, which can offer a lot of insights into writing a good review for those in the early stages of their career.

Find a few places to start for reviewer training courses listed in the further resources section below.

Section 2

What is a good review?

What makes up a good review?

When approaching a manuscript, it is helpful to have a checklist to evaluate the manuscript according to certain criteria. This can include whether it fits into the aims and scope of the journal, the relationship to existing literature, if the argument is carried throughout the paper, or if the data is correct.

See the Appendix for our reviewer scorecard.

Where do I find examples of good reviews?

With the recent rise of open peer review, many publishers or journals have platforms where papers are published with their accompanying reviews.

At Emerald, Emerald Open Research host papers with open peer review and an open data policy, where research (and reviews) are free to read and download. Here you can find hundreds of examples of reviews to help build your understanding of what makes a good review.

Where do I find fellow reviewers?

Web of Science is the best platform to find people who are actively reviewing. It shows a person’s publication history, academic affiliation, and review history. You can connect with reviewers who are working in the same field as you, and mark yourself as an ‘Interested Reviewer’ for journals.

Once you have created a profile, you will be more discoverable by editorial teams through the ‘Reviewer Locator’ tool.

Section 3

Why review?

What does reviewing do for my career?

Emerald has partnered with Web of Science to give you the option of having official recognition for your peer review work on your reviewer profile on Web of Science. Reviewing allows you to interact with the newest research in your field and gain insight into trends in your field of expertise, as well as to gain a deeper understanding of how your own research is evaluated, and to tailor it for successful publication. Experience in reviewing demonstrates your breadth of knowledge in a practical way for future applications. Lastly, it can help to build your academic network.

What perks do I get for reviewing?

Depending on where you review, you receive certain perks in exchange for your time and expertise.

These can include free access to articles and research for a limited period, reviewer certificates, and entry into reviewer awards.

Top tips

  • While quality of language and grammar is important, focusing on the content itself and general merit as a piece of research provides a better insight into the suitability of a paper for publication.
  • Speak with your colleagues and mentors about their experiences of peer review. Published manuscripts are very rarely a reflection of what the authors originally submitted. It is important that academics work collaboratively to improve their work, drawing on each other's strengths and experience, instead of seeing each other as competitors.
  • Interdisciplinary journals may struggle more than other journals to find expert reviewers. Narrow down your search to more specialty journals, rather than opting for the big names in your field.

Further resources

Emerald Open Research

Emerald Open Research is a platform for fast author-led publication and open peer review.