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Be a Manuscript Reviewer

Fulton, Janet S., PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FCNS, ANEF, FAAN

doi: 10.1097/NUR.0000000000000445

Author Affiliation: Professor, Indiana University School of Nursing, Indianapolis.

The author reports no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Janet S. Fulton, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, ANEF, FAAN, Indiana University School of Nursing, 600 Barnhill Dr, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (

The gold standard for scholarship has long been publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Most peer reviews are conducted using a double-blind method; the reviewer and author are not known to each other. The editor or editorial staff match the manuscript with a reviewer who conducts a written review and returns comments to an editor. Reviewers are volunteers receiving no financial compensation. Altruistically, a reviewer is giving back to the scientific or professional community by conducting a review. The advancement of knowledge depends on reviewers sharing their time and expertise.

Who can be a reviewer? Reviewers are scientists and professionals with expertise in an area of research or practice matching the topics of interest to a journal. Expertise in a topic area is more important than credentials, although credentials such as academic degrees or certification are ways to demonstrate a reviewer’s expertise. Although not required, reviewers may also be published authors themselves. Having published articles gives the reviewer helpful insights into both sides of the process. Every published, peer-reviewed article received 2 or more reviews. In the spirit of give-back, authors owe at least 2 reviews in recognition of the time and expertise donated by reviewers.

What is the process for becoming a reviewer? Topic experts can volunteer to be reviewers by contacting the editor. Some editors ask for a curriculum vita or a list of past publications; it varies widely by journal editor. Web-based submission services like Editorial Manager ask authors to indicate interest in serving as a reviewer when submitting a manuscript, which an editor then approves. Once in the system, a reviewer should complete a profile by identifying areas of expertise. This journal has a prepopulated list of topics from which reviewers select. Authors use this same list to indicate the focus of a manuscript, allowing the system to match reviewers with manuscripts.

How are manuscripts assigned? Once a reviewer is matched with a manuscript, an editor will confirm and assign reviewers. An e-mail message is sent to the reviewers inviting them to accept the review by a specified date. To facilitate a timely review, it is important that a reviewer respond to the invitation by the requested date. The invitation will identify the due date for the review to be completed, usually 2 to 4 weeks. If a reviewer cannot complete a review within the time allotted, it is best to decline the invitation so another reviewer can be assigned. Accepting the review invitation triggers the system to give a reviewer access to the manuscript. Sometimes, reviewers forget to accept the invitation and then wonder why they do not receive manuscripts for review.

What happens if a reviewer declines an invitation? Reviewers are busy professionals, and invitations to review, which depend solely on topics authors are submitting, are not planned. It is okay to decline an invitation. Web-based systems like Editorial Manager give reviewers an opportunity to state a reason for declining the invitation. Editors do not need details, but a few words may be helpful, such as on sabbatical or working on grant submission deadline. Reviewers can request a respite for a specified period, such as may be necessary when changing jobs or moving to a new city.

What should be included in a review? Reviewers should look at the quality of the manuscript and consider the interests of the readers. Journals may differ slightly in their review criteria, but in general, they adhere to similar guidelines.

Content: Is the idea or topic appropriate for the level and interest of the reader of the journal? For this journal, the content should be at an advanced level and appropriate for clinical nurse specialist practice or education. The content should be important, timely, and creative and make a unique, new contribution to the literature. A manuscript may be well written and interesting, but if the content can be found elsewhere, such as in textbooks, it is not a very good idea to include it in a journal.

Structure and style: The construction of the manuscript should be logically developed, complete, clear, and grammatically correct. It should have the basic organization of a scholarly paper and include an introduction, body, and conclusion. The best ideas are of no value if the reader cannot follow the logic of the manuscript or is distracted by grammatical errors.

Title and abstract: The title should reflect the theme of the manuscript, and the abstract should reflect the content. They should be informative yet concise. Titles and abstracts are listed in searchable databases, and for other scientists and clinicians to find an article, the title and abstract must be an accurate reflection of the content.

Tables and illustrations: Tables, figures, and illustrations should contribute to the text of the manuscript. They should be easy to follow, clearly designed, relevant, and adequately captioned. Too many tables can be distracting, and too few can be unhelpful. Make sure all tables and illustrations are adequately captioned and can stand alone without the text. And, each table should be noted in the text.

Purpose and aims: Whether a research study or clinical project, the purpose and aims/objectives should be stated. Methods or steps should be presented logically and demonstrate how the study or project was accomplished. Data collection and analysis should be aligned with the purpose.

Conclusions: The reader wants to know, was the purpose accomplished? Make sure the conclusions are stated in terms of the purpose and supported by the data.

References: Do not forget to review the references. Important works should be included; tangential work is not necessary. The average article should have around 20 references or less. References should be from trustworthy sources, which is challenging in an era of predatory publications and anything goes on the Internet. If a reference appears bogus, be sure to note it in reviewer comments.

Who sees the reviewer comments? Reviewers are given an opportunity to submit comments to the editor and to the author. Comments to the editor are not shared with the authors and reflect thoughts that the reviewer may have about the quality of the work. For example, a reviewer may have concerns about a study design or inadequate data. Such problems would be “fatal flaws” in a study. This information is important for the editor, as it would not be possible to improve the manuscript with editing. However, many manuscripts need revisions to improve the flow, clarity, or presentation. Reviewers should share comments with authors that would be helpful in improving the manuscript, be it for resubmission to the journal or for submission to another journal.

What should reviewers say to authors? Tell authors what is good about the manuscript and where they can improve. Be specific; for example, identify areas where the content was not clear, suggest tables to summarize data, note any important references that should be considered, identify redundant content, and suggest ways to improve content flow. Editors can modify comments before sending to authors to avoid inappropriate (yes, it can happen) comments going out to authors.

What happens to reviewer comments? Reviewers are asked to make a recommendation to the editor about the manuscript—accept, revise, reject. The editor will review reviewer recommendations and comments and then decide about the manuscript. If the decision is to revise or reject, the author will receive all the reviewer comments to the author. Reviewers who recommend revision must include comments to the author. Reviewers recommending revision but neglecting to include author comments leave the author and editor perplexed as to what needs to be revised.

How can I volunteer to be a reviewer? If you are interested in serving as a reviewer for this journal, please contact the editorial office or editor. If you are currently a reviewer, please log into the Editorial Manager system at and check your topics profile. Make sure it is up-to-date.

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone—authors, reviewers, editorial board members, and office staff—for making the journal a success!

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