Advancing with Advances (series 2): Perfecting Peer Review (part 2)

Why should I write a report?

Advice and guidance from in-house editors

Your role as a reviewer matters. Therefore, whether you’ve been invited to review a manuscript for the first time or the 15th time, this blog written by the RSC Advances Editorial Office at the Royal Society of Chemistry hopes to explain the importance of reviewing for a journal and how it can benefit you as a researcher and as an author in your field. This blog will also cover key things to consider before agreeing to review, and offer guidance on how to tackle your reviewer report, how you can assist the author and the journal by offering suggestions to improve a manuscript and recommend accepting or rejecting it for publication.

Burlington House, London (Headquarters of the Royal Society of Chemistry)

What is peer review?

The process of assessing manuscripts from active researchers in a relevant field is crucial in making sure that the scientific record is accurate, trustworthy and of high quality. It is an integral part of getting great science into the world. We recognise the important role of our peer reviewers, offering support and recognition to every member of our network, for example through our Outstanding Peer Reviewer recognition. With the recent introduction to Transparent Peer Review at RSC Advances, we are committed to ensuring trust and rigour in our peer review processes.

The benefits of becoming a reviewer

Reviewing a manuscript will develop your skills in many ways as both a researcher and an author. You will be kept up to date with your chosen field, as well as expand your knowledge and understanding of the field. It also will help to increase your awareness of the publishing process as well as journal standards and expectations. As part of the peer review process, you will gain valuable insight into how articles are assessed, allowing you to become more prepared for when you submit an article to a journal. You will also learn to give constructive feedback in a clear and informative manner – these critical evaluation skills will help forward your career as a researcher.

When you are invited to review a manuscript, what is the first thing you do?

You may be invited to review for a journal at any time. You will likely be invited to review a particular manuscript the handling editor feels is within your field of research from your previous publishing output. When you receive this invitation, you will have access to the author list and the article abstract. There are a number of questions you must ask yourself before deciding you are an appropriate reviewer for this manuscript.

  • Am I an expert? Do you have the right research background and the necessary knowledge to critically assess this paper? Are you an active researcher that has recently published work in this field? At the RSC, we require our reviewers to hold a PhD (or equivalent), be an active researcher, and have published recently in one or more peer-reviewed journals of comparable impact and reputation to the journal you are reviewing for.
  • Will I be able to meet the deadline? You are given around 10 days to complete your report. If you have a busy schedule at the time of the invitation and are unlikely to be able to commit the time required to prepare a thorough report, you may consider declining, or asking the journal for an extension before accepting the invitation.
  • Do I have a conflict of interest? Have you had any recent collaborations with the author that may sway your opinion of the work and conflict with the fairness of the peer review procedure?

If you choose to accept a reviewer invitation, the handling editor will be delighted. However, declining your invitation is just as valuable, as it lets us know you cannot provide a review and we can then invite alternative reviewers within a short time frame. After all, we want to deliver the author a decision on their manuscript in a timely manner. If you are unable to review the manuscript at this time, but you know someone who would be perfect, we really appreciate your recommendation for another reviewer.

And if you do agree to review, how do you go about it assessing a paper?

The aim of your report is to help the journal to decide if the work is suitable to publish; Therefore, please make sure to check the journal scope and standards before beginning your review. At the Royal Society of Chemistry, each journal has its own webpage that details what the editorial team is looking to publish. You can then consider whether the article is a good fit for the journal during your review.

Read the manuscript carefully and thoroughly. The process of reviewing is confidential, so the manuscript should not be shown to, disclosed to, or discussed with others, except in special cases where specific scientific advice may be used. In this event, the editor should be informed and you must provide the name of the researcher.

Be clear and constructive in your feedback. Try to write a report you would like to receive if you were the author. The more detailed you can be, the more beneficial your report is to the editor and the author. Your report is there to assist the editor to make a decision, but it is also a valuable opportunity for the authors to improve their manuscript.

For example, when preparing your report, avoid comments like this:

“Results need improvement”

This kind of comment is not useful to either the editor or the author. What results need improvement? What is concerning you about the results section? How can the results be improved?

Instead try:

Results section could be significantly improved through evaluation/analysis of X, Y, Z. This would be beneficial to the manuscript as it would further highlight/clarify/prove A, B, C.

This is much more detailed. It explains why the results section should be improved and the benefits of undertaking the further analysis.

Some other important points to consider include:

  • Is the work understandable, and correct? If not, can you give any suggestions on how the authors should improve this. We advise that general comments on language, grammar or spelling errors should be avoided as this can be improved during the editing stage, however, we encourage you to comment on the areas where the language or grammar makes the meaning of the science unclear.
  • Is it interesting, significant, and/or important? Providing suggestions on how to expand the study to make the work more significant is always gratefully received.
  • Is the study well-presented?
  • Be objective: review the research and not the researcher.
  • Be polite in the language you use – think about what you would like to receive. Be diplomatic with your opinion.
  • Check the data carefully – do the results support the conclusions? If you spot any potential ethical concerns, you can email the journal team directly, or highlight any concerns in the “comments to the editor”.
  • Note: The “comments to the editor” are confidential comments that can only viewed by the editor. Any comments for the author should be included in the “comments to the author”.

Interested in becoming a reviewer? More information on becoming a reviewer can be found on our website:


Tune in every Wednesday to catch the next instalment of this series on Advancing with Advances: perfecting peer review, and we hope it will be useful to anyone writing a reviewer report. Next week: Our first post from Professor N. Mariano Correa!

Don’t miss out on our additional posts on perfecting peer review below:

  • Expected reports from external reviewers: An introduction by Professor N. Mariano Correa, who will use his experiences to highlight what a reviewer report should cover.
  • Interviews with Associate Editors: Our experienced team of Associate Editors from a broad range of subject areas will provide insights into how they use your reviewer reports, and what aspects they find the most useful in making a decision on a manuscript.
    • Part 4 Featuring Dr Donna Arnold (University of Kent), Professor Brenno Neto (Universidade de Brasilia), Professor Beatriz Jurado Sánchez (University of Alcalá) and Professor Rodrigo Octavio de Souza (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)
    • Part 5 – Featuring Dr Giacomo Saielli (University of Padova), Professor Shivani Bhardwaj Mishra (University of South Africa) and Professor Leyong Wang (Nanjing University)
    • Part 6 – Featuring 10 Associate Editors

You are welcome to send in any questions you have about peer review or publishing with RSC Advances to or post them on X @RSCAdvances #AdvancingWithAdvances.

Check out more publishing tips and tricks from our Advancing with Advances: how to publish and not perish series!

RSC Advances looks forward to advancing the chemical sciences with you.

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