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How to become a great peer reviewer

OSA Publishing Staff

As an active peer reviewer you can help facilitate the publication of high-quality scientific research and contribute to the advancement of your field. But did you know it may also help advance your career? Reviewing activity is often recognized by promotion and tenure committees, and exceptional reviewers who frequently assist editors by evaluating manuscripts are oftentimes sought out to become editors themselves, which can be an excellent addition to your resume.

Developing the skills necessary to provide effective reviews can take time. Fortunately, OSA has several great resources available to help you become a better peer reviewer. Here are some tips and links that will help you enhance your contributions as an OSA peer reviewer.

1. Understand the importance of your role in Peer Review

It is important for active participants in the larger scientific community to review other researchers’ work in addition to publishing your own research. OSA encourages you to review at least two papers for every paper you submit so that you can contribute to both sides of the scientific dialogue in your field.

To better understand why peer review is so critical to scholarly communications, take a minute to read a 2012 Optics and Photonics News article written by OSA Senior Science Advisor and former Chair of the OSA Board of Editors, Michael D. Duncan. In it, he writes, “Reviews are the prime pieces of information that journal editors rely on to judge the value of a submitted article and determine whether it should be published.” He adds, “Authors also benefit from the review process by receiving the constructive feedback of their peers, often resulting in substantial improvements in their papers… The end result is that readers and the scholarly community benefit by having access to high quality, original research to absorb and build upon for their own work.”

2. Get noticed

Becoming a reviewer can take some time. Editors select appropriate reviewers for each paper based on information such as publication records, prior reviewing experience, or personal knowledge and recommendations, as well as keywords in the journal’s reviewer database. You are more likely to be chosen as a reviewer of a particular paper if you have also published articles on that topic for example. Other ways to increase your chances of being asked to review include:
  • Ask your supervisor to involve you when they review a paper so that they can guide you through the process.  Make sure to let the editor know that you assisted in the preparation of the report.
  • Update your account with a mixture of general and very specific keywords to describe your area of expertise (see also point 5 below).
  • Contact the editor who handles papers in your area to let them know you are interesting in contributing as a reviewer and provide him/her with details about your qualifications.
3. Respond promptly

If you are asked to review, respond promptly, especially if you need to decline the invitation.  Let the editor know if you expect to be delayed in returning a report, and suggest alternative reviewers if you are unable to assist. 

You should decline an invitation if the manuscript is not in your area of expertise.  It’s also ok to decline if you just don’t have the time, but remember point number 1.
If you think you might have a conflict of interest, discuss it with the editor before working on your review.

4. Familiarize yourself with the journal’s acceptance criteria

Every journal has a purpose and standards that need to be considered when reviewing. Criteria for each OSA Journal can be found here. Use the journal criteria as the baseline for your comments and provide the type of constructive review that you would like to receive for your own manuscript.

It’s good practice to start your report by briefly summarizing the paper as that helps the editor and author understand whether the main points of the work are clear.  You can then provide more detailed remarks, remembering to support and justify your opinions. Please focus your comments on the technical aspects of a manuscript and avoid editing for language or grammar.  However, it’s acceptable to include a general statement for the authors if the paper would benefit from careful proofreading before resubmission.

5. Update your account

One way to ensure you receive relevant and interesting papers to review is to update your account in the journal’s article tracking system so that the editors can match you with papers that align with your areas of expertise.

You can create or update your OSA account by logging in to Prism and clicking Update Account in the upper-right hand corner.

Click the PARTICIPATION tab and EDIT your Reviewer Interests with a brief listing of your areas of expertise. Authors who submit to OSA Journals are also given the opportunity to update their Reviewer Interests at the beginning of the manuscript submission process.

6. Follow good ethical practice

OSA highlights obligations for reviewers in our Guidelines Concerning Ethical Practices in the Publication of Research. General guidelines for reviewers are also available here

And finally…

As with most skills, your effectiveness as a peer reviewer will develop and improve with experience.  For those looking to strengthen their resume, building a solid profile as a reviewer can lead to other opportunities within OSA’s journals, conferences and governance structure. We hope that these tips are a helpful way to get started.

For more helpful information on becoming a Peer Reviewer for OSA journals, download our latest Reviewing A Manuscript brochure, and visit the Resource Page on the official Peer Review Week website
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