When you first receive the manuscript it is recommended that you read it through once and focus on the wider context of the research.
Ask questions such as:
- What research question(s) do the authors address? Do they make a good argument for why a question is important?
- What methods do the authors use to answer the question? Are the methods the most current available or is there a newer more powerful method available? Does their overall strategy seem like a good one, or are there major problems with their methods? Are there other experiments that would greatly improve the quality of the manuscript? If so, are they necessary to make the work publishable? Would any different data help confirm the presented results and strengthen the paper?
- Were the results analyzed and interpreted correctly? Does the evidence support the authors’ conclusions?
- Will the results advance your field in some way? If so, how much? Does the importance of the advance match the standards of the journal?
- Will other researchers be interested in reading the study? If so, what types of researchers? Do they match the journal’s audience? Is there an alternative readership that the paper would be more suitable for? For example, a study about renal disease in children might be suitable for either a pediatrics-centric journal or one that is targeted at nephrologists.
- Does the manuscript fit together well? Does it clearly describe what was done, why it was done, and what the results mean?
- Is the manuscript written well and easy to read? If the manuscript has many mistakes, you can suggest that the authors have it checked by a native English speaker. If the language quality is so poor that it is difficult to understand, you can ask that the manuscript be corrected before you review it.
After your first reading, write one or two paragraphs summarizing what the manuscript is about and how it adds to current knowledge in your field. Mention the strengths of the manuscript, but also any problems that make you believe it should not be published, or that would need to be corrected to make it publishable. These summary paragraphs are the start of your review, and they will demonstrate to the editor and authors that you have read the manuscript carefully. They will also help the editor, who may not be a specialist in this particular field, understand the wider context of the research. Finally, these paragraphs will highlight the manuscript’s main messages that will be taken away by readers.
You can then proceed in evaluating the individual sections of the paper.