How to evaluate a manuscript critically: 12 questions you should always ask yourself
t’s finally happened: you have received your first invitation to peer review. You accept, pick up your red pen, and shuffle gleefully in your chair. This is your much anticipated contribution to the scientific community. But then the panic sets in: what does peer review really mean, and what should you look out for while reading the manuscript?
Peer review can be challenging for new academics. Your role is to help maintain the quality and integrity of published research and, in turn, protect the public from flawed and misleading findings. This may feel like a daunting task given the admissions of fraudulent research practices, surge in retractions and the reproducibility crisis facing science today – but fighting against these problems is not only vital for scholarly communication, it will also improve your own skills as a researcher.
Your peer review contributions will help you understand what editors are looking for, and you’ll become a better writer and a more successful published author in the process. You’ll keep abreast of research in your field, learn new and best-practice methods, and start examining your own research from that critical vantage point.
However, to start contributing to the scientific community and reaping the benefits of peer review, you’ll first need to learn what makes a great peer reviewer.
Key to this is knowing when to accept a review invitation (see here for our tips) and how to critique a research paper.
We asked Publons Academy Advisor Elisabeth Bik for her advice on how to read a manuscript critically. Bik is a Research Associate at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Alongside putting together a helpful list of general questions to ask yourself while reviewing, Bik offered her valuable expertise during the creation of our Publons Academy. This is a free on-demand course that teaches you how to become a better peer reviewer. You can sign up for that here to master the core competencies of peer reviewing and to connect with editors at elite journals.