What we’ve learned from 25 years of peer review


Writing a review report can potentially be a daunting task, with some manuscripts being particularly long or challenging to interpret. Fortunately, there are some efficient and simple techniques to streamline the process to make your job as a reviewer much easier. In this post, we will cover the role of the peer reviewer and what makes a good review, ensuring that, at the end of the process, the published paper is of a high standard.

Role of the Peer Reviewer

The purpose of the peer review process is to provide critical feedback to all papers submitted to MDPI’s journals. The peer review aims to cover the specialist aspects of the article, i.e., those related to the subject-specific content. The Assistant Editors at MDPI are trained to ensure that experts in the field are invited to review submissions that align with their expertise; therefore, the majority of the feedback should be related to the scientific aspects of the paper. These aspects include the novelty, scientific interest, experimental protocol, data interpretation, figures and results, and the overall conclusions. Once the peer review is received, the comments are checked by the editorial team to ensure that the feedback is useful for the author. If the feedback is sufficient, the comments will be passed onto the authors to revise their manuscript.

How to write a good peer review report

1. Be Constructive

When giving negative comments, try to provide enough evidence and substantial feedback to allow the author to modify the manuscript or to provide more evidence to support their own ideas.

2. Be Concise

Try to keep comments as concise as possible. The use of bullet points is encouraged when writing a peer review, as it allows the author to address each point individually in their responses.

3. Be Specific

Try to make comments as specific as possible. Comments such as “the introduction needs improving” or “the conclusions are poor” are too vague for authors to work on, whereas comments about specific aspects of the paper are much easier for the authors to address. Moreover, indicating the line numbers of each point to be addressed is also highly recommended.

4. Avoid comments related to incorrect formatting and/or English language errors

These issues should not be taken into consideration during peer review, as these errors can be corrected by our in-house layout and English Editing teams. If the English language is very poor, you can recommend that the author uses the English pre-editing service offered by MDPI to address the quality of the language.

5. Compare the research to available literature

Comparing the research to available literature may help the author to address any issues regarding novelty. If you find literature on a very similar topic that has already been published, including it in your review may encourage the author to take a new approach to the subject that has never been covered before.

6. Try to avoid self-citation

A single self-citation is acceptable, however providing multiple citations from your own work may be problematic. As this is a blind peer review process, the author should not be made aware of who is reviewing their paper. Multiple self-citations can hint towards your identity, so this should be avoided.

7. Notify the Assistant Editor if you require more time

The rapid turnaround of MDPI’s peer review process may make you feel pressured. If you do need more time to complete your review, you are welcome to take it. It is better for you to spend a few extra days perfecting your feedback than to send in a rushed report which is of little use to the author.

8. Check whether the paper fits within the scope of the journal that you are reviewing for

Many journals have had their scope expanded during recent years; however, some still have a narrow scope when it comes to submissions. Check the journal’s webpage to find out the scope of the paper, as many papers that potentially seem out of scope may fit into the journal, or alternatively, if you have concerns about the scope, include these concerns in your report and suggest alternative MDPI journals that the author could submit to.

9. Figures may need to be verified as authentic

Some papers, such as those featuring Western blots, will need to be verified for authenticity by experts. It is helpful if you check any figures for scientific soundness and authenticity, as it allows us to verify the results have not been falsified.

10. The feedback you give in the text boxes is more important than the overall score

Although it may seem strange, your review decision is nothing without feedback for the authors, so it is best to write your feedback first, and then look over what has been written and base your overall score on the feedback.

11. Use line numbers when writing your report

All peer review papers should have line numbers displayed, which allows you to reference exactly where a particular error is. This will help the author to understand what you mean, as they will be able to easily locate any problem areas.

12. Every paper can be perfected and polished

Even if the paper is publishable in its current form, small changes can increase the quality of the paper and increase its appeal to a wider audience. Even when giving suggestions to “accept in current form”, try to provide some optional feedback to improve the paper as much as possible, as authors will appreciate any feedback you give them, and may possibly incorporate your additional suggestions into the final version.

Further information and tips for reviewers can be found on the MDPI website here.

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