Advancing with Advances (series 2): Perfecting Peer Review (part 5)

Interviews with Associate Editors

Our Associate Editors offer some Advice

At RSC Advances we have a team of around sixty-five hard working Associate Editors, who handle your manuscript, from initial assessment to their final decision. They are active researchers and experts in their respective fields, and therefore have an in-depth understanding of what it takes to get work published.

To gain more insight into the world of peer-review, we have asked our Associate Editors two questions:

  1. What are the most important points for a reviewer to include and discuss to help guide your decision?
  2. When you act as a reviewer, how do you approach this task and what are the initial steps that you take when assessing a manuscript?

Here are what some of our Associate Editors Dr Giacomo Saielli, Professor Shivani Bhardwaj Mishra & Professor Leyong Wang had to say:

Dr Giacomo Saielli, University of Padova, Italy

What are the most important points for a reviewer to include and discuss to help guide your decision?

First, the report should have a short (it can be very short, actually) introduction mentioning the title and/or the subject and/or the first author, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding. This is more to make it clear to the authors, rather than to the editor, that the reviewer really reviewed the right paper.

More substantially: the reviewer should check that their recommendation (Reject, Major Revisions, Minor Revisions, Accept) matches the comments that will be sent to the authors. Based on my experience, it is not rare to have reports asking for very significant changes which amount to re-doing the work from scratch, and then recommend a Major Revision, where a Reject recommendation would have been more appropriate. Or, on the other side, to receive a Reject recommendation while the comments to the authors are mostly concerned with technical details of the experiments or calculations that could be easily discussed with the authors, if we give them a chance to clarify such points.

Another important point is, for positive reports such as Accept or Minor Revisions, to write the reasons why the paper is good. If the work is timely, if it fills a gap in the literature, if the experiments and analysis are solid and the results are interesting, it is a good idea to write down all these points and to support such statements with a detailed answer, rather than simply saying “this is a nice piece of work, I recommend publication”. A good reason for doing this is that more often than not an Editor can end up with two conflicting reports with opposite recommendations and in most cases the negative report is full of details about what is supposedly wrong with the paper. A positive report also full of details about why the paper is good, will help to make a more balanced decision.

Finally, it would be very helpful for the authors if the comments of the reviewer actually suggested ways to improve the paper rather than generic statements like “the Conclusions should be improved”. How can it be improved? What is missing? If the reviewer can give a hint on how to improve that particular section, that would be highly appreciated by the authors.

When you act as a reviewer, how do you approach this task and what are the initial steps that you take when assessing a manuscript?

The most important steps for a reviewer (and therefore for myself when I review a manuscript) have to be taken before the real review begins! It is important to think about two key issues: i) is the paper within my area of expertise? ii) if the answer to the first question is Yes, do I have enough time to finish the report before the deadline? And if one or both answers are No, please just reply that you are not available, possibly suggesting other potential reviewers.

These points might appear not important, but there is nothing more annoying for authors (as we all know being also authors ourselves) than waiting week after week for an answer. This may lead to the author blaming the editor who, in fact, cannot do anything else except invite new reviewers and wait for their reports.

Having said that, when I review a paper I first focus on the Introduction and Conclusions to get an idea of the main results presented by the authors. It also happens that for specialized journals (at variance with RSC Advances which is a general chemistry journal), I try to evaluate whether or not the work fits within the scope of the journal. In a non-negligible number of cases, I had papers with very good results that were somehow not suitable for the journal at hand.

Then, in the second reading I go deeper into the details of the results presented and I try to get an idea of the good points and possible mistakes that should be brought to the attention of the editor and authors.

Professor Shivani Bhardwaj Mishra, University of South Africa, Johannesburg

What are the most important points for a reviewer to include and discuss to help guide your decision?

Reviewers should identify the novelty of the work, how the work provides new knowledge contribution and help the other researchers to refine their efforts for ongoing and future investigations in that area. Reviewers should critically go through the article and assess its importance for accommodating multidisciplinary / interdisciplinary / translational research. Scientific investigations with an apt and thorough rationalization are of prime significance that must be taken care of while reviewing the article.

When you act as a reviewer, how do you approach this task and what are the initial steps that you take when assessing a manuscript?

As a reviewer, I strictly follow the above-mentioned guidelines. Additionally, I look for any similar work that has been already published with more advanced knowledge contribution in the respective research area. Further, I look to see if the manuscript is well presented scientifically and if the study holds a background and hypothesis for the purpose / objective of the study. It is also utmost importance for me that the study aligns its course to the hypothesis as well as rationalise its results with suitable discussion. Any scientific investigation is based on set of studies that should be in order of optimized parameters. These parameters should integrate and self-align with the observations / results obtained and therefore must lead to significant discussion. Priority is to uncover the facts that set an example for the other researchers.

Professor Leyong Wang, Nanjing University, China

What are the most important points for a reviewer to include and discuss to help guide your decision?

A good review is not only to help the editor to reach a decision about whether to publish or not, a good review will also help the authors improve this and future manuscripts.

A reasonable review would be better to start out with a short summary, and then to point out the main strengths of the manuscript as well as its weaknesses with neutral and objective tone. The reviewer’s comments could support well the recommendation for revision or rejection.

In the second part, list any major flaw or concerns, any minor flaw is also important to the editor as well as the authors.

Occasionally, if the reviewer finds or already know of similar publications on the same topic and data elsewhere that the authors overlooked in their own literature search, please also mention this in the comments, which help both of editor’s decision and authors’ revision in future.

When you act as a reviewer, how do you approach this task and what are the initial steps that you take when assessing a manuscript?

Before I accept an invitation to review a manuscript. I judge the research topic based on the title, abstract of manuscript, to determine whether it is within my field of research. I then consider my free time, and whether I am able to meet the expected deadline. After accepting to review a manuscript, I usually approach this task as follow:

  1. Download the manuscript and supporting information and store in my computer.
  2. Read the Title, Graphic Abstract, and Abstract quickly, I use about 5-10 min.
  3. First, read the entire manuscript quickly to have overall impression, which need 20% of reviewing time roughly. Occasionally to make notes as I go. what is the paper about? how is it structured? How about the quality of Schemes and Figures? At this stage, I try to be as open-minded as I can.
  4. Secondly, reading the entire manuscript and also supporting information, I write suggestions and comments, then make a decision on my recommendation. To which roughly 40-50 % of reviewing time is devoted. In this step, I consider whether the article contains a good Introduction and description of the state of the art; whether the authors have considered the full context of the topic of present manuscript. I check the references, are the important papers are cited or not? I also check whether the conclusions are adequately supported by the results in the present manuscript.
  5. Thirdly, after reading the manuscript and supporting information quickly, I check the compliance of the authors to the journal guidelines and usage of specialized jargon terms. This step needs about 10-20% of reviewing time.
  6. Last but not least, I reread and revise my reviewer report to be sure it is balanced and fair before I submit my recommendation. This needs about 10% of reviewing time.


We hope you have found this post useful. Tune in next Wednesday to catch the next instalment of Advancing with Advances: perfecting peer review. Next week, more of our Associate Editors  will provide their insight into reviewer reports.

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

  • Why should I write a report? Our in-house editors will provide guidance on the importance of peer review, why you may consider being a reviewer for a peer reviewed journal, and how to approach you reviewer report.
  • 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

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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