Accepting an invitation to review
Editors invite you to review as they believe that you are an expert in a certain area. They would have judged this from your previous publication record or posters and/or sessions you have contributed to at conferences. You may find that the number of invitations to review increases as you progress in your career.
There are several questions to consider before you accept an invitation to review a paper.
- Are you qualified? The editor has asked you to review the manuscript because he or she believes you are familiar with the specific topic or research method used in the paper. It will usually be okay if you can review some, but not all, aspects of a manuscript. Take as an example, if the study focused on a certain physiological process in an animal model you conduct your research on but used a technique that you have never used. In this case, simply review the parts of the manuscript that are in your area of expertise, and tell the editor which parts you cannot review. However, if the manuscript is too far outside your area, you should decline to review it.
- Do you have time? If you know you will not be able to review the manuscript by the deadline, then you should not accept the invitation. Sending in a review long after the deadline will delay the publication process and frustrate the editor and authors. Keep in mind that reviewing manuscripts, like research and teaching, is a valuable contribution to science, and is worth making time for whenever possible.
- Are there any potential conflicts of interest? You should evaluate the manuscript as fairly and objectively as possible. Potential conflicts of interest include:
a. The reported results could cause you to make or lose money, e.g., the authors are developing a drug that could compete with a drug you are working on.
b. The manuscript concerns a controversial question that you have strong feelings about (either agreeing or disagreeing with the authors).
c. You have strong positive or negative feelings about one of the authors, e.g., a former teacher who you admire greatly.
d. You have published papers or collaborated with one of the co-authors in recent years.
If you are not sure if you have a conflict of interest, discuss your circumstances with the editor.
Along with avoiding a conflict of interest, there are several other ethical guidelines to keep in mind as you review the manuscript. Manuscripts under review are highly confidential, so you should not discuss the manuscript – or even mention its existence – to others. One exception is if you would like to consult with a colleague about your review; in this case, you will need to ask the editor’s permission. It is normally okay to ask one of your students or postdocs to help with the review. However, you should let the editor know that you are being helped, and tell your assistant about the need for confidentiality. In some cases case, when the journal operates an open peer review policy they will allow the student or postdoc to co-sign the report with you should they wish.
It is very unethical to use information in the manuscript to make business decisions, such as buying or selling stock. Also, you should never plagiarize the content or ideas in the manuscript.