How to Phrase Feedback in Peer Reviews for Nurse Authors? : Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal

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How to Phrase Feedback in Peer Reviews for Nurse Authors?

Harding, Andrew D. MS, RN, CEN, NEA-BC, FAHA

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Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal 32(4):p 333-337, October/December 2010. | DOI: 10.1097/TME.0b013e3181f5819b
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PEER REVIEW in scholarly nursing journals is a tradition used to provide feedback to both the author and editor. The author is to receive guidance to develop or refine the manuscript in preparation for publication. The editor receives counsel to make rational publication decisions. This article will focus on how to frame and phrase feedback to authors. Scholarly works in nursing publication are relatively new with the books on nursing and nursing journals that have been recently created within the last 50 years. Therefore, guidance on writing and the publishing process for nurses is sparse. Many new authors submit manuscripts and are generally less satisfied with the peer review process than experienced authors (Shattell, Chinn, Thomas, & Cowling, 2010). Heinrich (2008) supports that nurse authors should receive compassionate critique from peer reviewers that explain the reason for the editors' publication decision regarding the submitted manuscript.


As with any novice, authors need support and encouragement to develop confidence in their craft, a sense of group belonging, and to foster their professional self-esteem. That being said, the peer review process is a system by which scholarly rigor and scientific questioning is used to advance the profession and add to nursing knowledge. Peer reviewers also help to guide authors and editors by identifying manuscripts that do not meet the scope of the journal or the needs of the audience. In these cases, the peer reviewers should recommend that the manuscript not be published and refer the author to journals that would be more suitable for the manuscript. Peer reviewers make specific suggestions for material changes, address the manuscript's clinical relevance, provide expert opinion, and critique the manuscript's structure (Foster, 2002). Thus, the peer reviewer serves a pivotal role in nursing and affects our professional discourse.

There are many different styles, scopes, traditions, emphasis, and expectations for the variety of nursing journals that exist currently. These scholarly journals rely on the process of honest peer review to meet the journals' aims and the needs of the contributing authors (Wurzbach, 2007). There are many publications that explain how to complete a quality professional peer review (Alexander, 2005; Benos, Kirk, & Hall, 2003; Griffin-Soble, 2004; Heinrich, 2008; Hoyt & Proehl, 2007; Oman, 2009; Pierson, 2007). However, authors, especially those new to writing, need the tone of the review to be encouraging, nonjudgmental, and constructive. Reviews provide an objective critique of the author's work with practical suggestions for improvement, which can be an excellent teaching tool and opportunity for self-reflection for the author.


Peer reviews written in a manner that is seemingly unbiased, thoughtful, and useful to the author will lead to publishable works and as such is a service to the profession. When reviews are written in such a way as to provoke the author to feel disrespected, harshly criticized, inconsistently evaluated by journal peer reviewers, or reluctant to ask questions or seek validation, then the purpose of peer review is not met. If this negative tone is conveyed, the review becomes another form of lateral violence within the nursing profession (Griffin, 2004). The American Nurses Association's Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (2001) provides a framework for the professional nurse's responsibilities to uphold and foster relationships with colleagues, collaboration, mentoring, confidentiality, standards and review mechanisms, accountability, integrity, character, professional growth, responsibilities to the public, and advancing the profession. The American Nurses Association's Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (2004) also beckons through the Standards of Professional Performance for the registered nurse in Standard 10: Collegiality to provide feedback to peers while maintaining compassionate, caring relationships and contributes to an environment conducive to education.

Therefore, we are called and obligated by our profession and professional standards to provide peer review to nurse authors that is compassionate, constructive, collaborative, and conducive to promoting our colleagues' professional growth. After the peer reviewer accepts the manuscript for review, time is required to read and think about the manuscript. Though peer review is a professional act, it is a competing priority with our precious time reserved for work, family, recreation, contemplation, and other scholarship activities. However, the words of the feedback received by the author help to shape and add to nursing's professional body of work.


Peer reviewers should address those aspects of a manuscript that are requested by the journal editors (i.e., the journal's review criteria). With the journal's review criteria serving as a framework, the initial paragraph should acknowledge the manuscript's main points in summary. Authors want to know that the reviewer understands their work. The review should be able to convey this understanding to the author and then continue by providing positive feedback about the aspects of the manuscript that deserve encouraging remarks. Table 1 contains examples of constructive feedback from peer reviewers. Follow this introduction with general suggestions related to flow, organization, substance and application. These points can be made through actual suggested changes or by asking the author questions to consider or points to clarify. Many authors will benefit from providing specific comments related to word choice, sentence structure, terms, headings, tables, and references. Be sure to be very specific while using the identification method preferred by the journal (e.g., line number, page, and paragraph), because this will provide clarity for the author. Conclude the review with encouraging remarks and gratitude. Figure 1 provides a sample of a complete review of a submitted manuscript.

Table 1:
Examples of constructive feedback
Figure 1:
A Complete review.

The authors need clear guidelines for revision from peer reviewers. Most journal submissions are returned to authors with the opportunity to submit a revised manuscript. The peer reviewer is typically the only authority to provide guidance to the author. Substantial feedback is necessary for the author to understand how to make revisions that will meet the journal's requirements. When feedback is not sufficient to guide the author on how to proceed with a revision, this can be perceived negatively and cause frustration for the author. Many nurse authors are relatively inexperienced, which emphasizes the need for supportive, explanatory, and respectful peer reviews (Shattell et al., 2010).


Nurse authors are the public voice of nursing. They provide documentation of patients' experiences, best practices, emerging theory, nurses' toil and grace, and scientific knowledge discovery. Each peer review is an opportunity to refine the voice of nursing to be bold, succinct, and valid. Every nurse who has the courage to write and submit his or her work needs to be encouraged to do it again. This form of sustainability is necessary to growth of the nursing profession. Our gratitude is expressed because it is the nurse authors who provide the expert content for the journals we cherish. Our thanks are also due to nurse authors as they are the leaders who will set the path for future generations to follow in our caring traditions.


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      author; peer review; profession; reviewer

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