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Please note that these frequently asked questions have been written with journal articles in mind, though some may be applicable to reviewing book proposals.

Role of the reviewer

How do I decide if I should accept a review?

There are many things to consider when deciding whether to review. It may help to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know the journal? If you haven’t heard of the journal, check that it is trusted and respected by using a resource like Think. Check. Submit.
  • Am I happy doing a review under the model used by the journal?
  • Do I have time to complete the review by the deadline?
  • Do I have the necessary expertise to review this content?

How long should I spend doing a review?

The time it takes to review an article varies depending on a number of factors, including:

  • Your familiarity with the topic
  • The complexity of the paper
  • The length of the paper
  • Your experience as a reviewer
  • The clarity and presentation of the article

In one 2008 study (1), the median time it took was about 5 hours, and the mean was about 9 hours. 

What should I cover in my review?

Things that should be assessed in a review are:

  • The paper's contribution to the discipline
  • The academic rigour and accuracy of the paper
  • The style and structure of the paper

Some journals will give clear instructions on what to cover, or will present you with a form to fill out as part of a review.

How should I format my comments?

The format of the comments will depend on the journal you are reviewing for. Some journals accept in-document comments, while others use writing and editing software. Make sure to follow instructions for reviewers, if available, and quote line and page numbers when using evidence from the article.

Ethics and best practice

Is there a code of conduct for peer reviewers?

The best place to find out about your duties and responsibilities as a peer reviewer is the website of the Committee on Publication Ethics, or COPE. You can also visit the section on this page called Ethics in peer review to find out more.

What is a conflict of interest, and when do you declare one?

Please visit the Ethics in peer review page to find out more about conflicts of interest and other ethical issues.

Behind the scenes of peer review

What are the different types of peer review?

You can find out more about peer review models used in journals on the How to peer review journal articles page.

How do you pick reviewers?

Editors may invite reviewers based on their own knowledge of the field, references in the article, through various searches with keywords, through journal or society databases, recommendations by the author or through industry tools. If you're interested in becoming a reviewer for a journal published by Cambridge, you can get in touch with with the editor for the relevant journal (you'll be able to find their name on the journal page) or email authorhub@cambridge.org.

Do you monitor the performance of peer reviewers?

Different journals have different policies about monitoring peer reviewers, but usually, yes, they do. Tools in submission systems can provide metrics on rejection rates to invitations to review, reviewer turnaround times, and time since the reviewer's last review. Monitoring peer reviewers is important to:

  • Avoid overworking peer reviewers
  • Ensure good, constructive, fair reviews and reviewers are valued
  • Track future editorial board potential.

Do you ever block reviewers?

This would depend on the situation, but this does not happen often. Occasionally, journals may try to organize their reviewer database, and will mark reviewers as inactive if a reviewer:

  • Requests it
  • Never responds to invitations
  • Frequently agrees to review without completing a review
  • Repeatedly submits inappropriate or unprofessional reviews.

How do I become a peer reviewer?

There are various ways to become a peer reviewer including:

  • Being active at conferences, seminars, societies and even through social media or blogging
  • Publishing articles
  • Making sure your ORCiDrecord is up to date
  • Reaching out directly to a journal's editorial team.

Portions of these FAQs were originally presented by Jennifer Wright, Research Services Manager, at a University of Cambridge Office of Scholarly Communication event, "Helping Researchers Publish." You can see the full presentation, 'Peer Review FAQs: What Do Postdocs Ask Us?' here.

(1) Mark Ware (2008) Peer review in scholarly journals: perspective of the scholarly community – results from an international study. Information Services & Use, Volume 28 Number 2, p109