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How to Review a Manuscript Video

Photo of the statue The Thinker

This video guides peer reviewers through the process of reviewing a scientific manuscript from start to finish. Watch here, or follow along in the transcript below.


This video guides peer reviewers through the process of reviewing a scientific manuscript.

We’re going to walk you through three main parts of the process:

  • being invited to review a manuscript
  • reading the manuscript, and
  • writing the reviewer report

When you’re invited to review

First, let’s talk about what to do when you’re invited to review a manuscript.

When you get an invitation, ask yourself three simple questions to help you decide whether to accept or decline:

  • Do you have the right expertise to comment on the manuscript?
  • Do you have enough time to do the review by the deadline?
  • Can you provide an objective review and are you free of any competing interests?

You should only consider accepting the invitation if you can answer yes to all of these questions.

When you read a manuscript

It’s a good idea to read the whole manuscript first. Then read through it again and focus on specific sections. Take lots of notes as you go and mark down specific sections and page numbers so you can keep track of the points you want to discuss.

The first thing you should do is figure out what the manuscript is about. Do the authors identify the main question and key claims? These should be clearly stated in the introduction. The authors should also discuss related research and explain how the study fits into that context.

Then look at the figures and tables along with the results. Do the results line up with what’s being shown?

Make sure you also pay attention to the methods and study design. Are the methods appropriate? Does the study follow relevant reporting guidelines and meet ethical standards?

Then read the conclusions: Are they supported by the data and results?

When you write the review

When you’re ready to start writing, find out how the review needs to be formatted and submitted. Some journals might have a structured form with specific questions to respond to.

You should also find out if you will need to recommend a decision, like minor or major revision. This information might be in your invitation letter, in the reviewer guidelines, or in the online system.

Follow an outline to keep your comments organized and easy to read. Think about it like an upside-down triangle, with the key message at the top followed by evidence and examples, then additional details at the very bottom.

Start off by summarizing the research in your own words and stating your overall impression.

Then use the middle section to provide detail on what the authors need to do to improve the manuscript. Divide this section into major issues and minor issues.

  • Major issues are the essential things the authors must address before the manuscript is considered further. Make sure you focus on what is fundamental for the current study. In other words, it’s not helpful to recommend additional work that would be considered the “next step” in the study.
  • Minor issues are still important but are smaller in scope and don’t affect the overall conclusions. Use this section to mention things like including additional references, clarifying the language, or adding more context.

Finally, add any confidential comments to share privately with the journal editors. This is where you might state if you have any competing interests. You can also raise concerns about ethics or misconduct, though in these cases it’s a good idea to get in touch with the journal staff directly as well.

“Thinker” Flickr, bobistraveling
Moby – “Sunspot” –
Adam Vitovsky – “The Stratosphere” –

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