How to Successfully Become a Journal Reviewer and Editor
By Jennifer Kim, MD, PhD; and Michael Diringer, MD
Publishing is often a major
part of advancement in an
academic career. Clinicianscientists,
nursing and pharmacy,
work throughout their
careers to bring their
research to the world
such as the Neurocritical
Care journal. The peerreview
process often seems daunting and clouded in mystery.
However, as one begins to advance in their career, they may find
they are now asked to serve as a reviewer themselves. Most do not
undergo any formal training to take on this new responsibility.
To help us understand the process of how to become a successful
reviewer and what reviewers should consider when completing a
review, we interviewed Neurocritical Care journal Editor-in-Chief
Michael Diringer, MD, professor of neurology, neurosurgery and
anesthesiology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Jennifer Kim (JK): How do you go about finding reviewers for
the Neurocritical Care journal?
Michael Diringer (MD): When I started my position as the editorin
chief, I inherited a database of reviewers with areas of expertise.
However, we also actively search for people, usually within NCS,
who have shown they understand a field and can tell whether a
paper makes sense. For trainees and young attendings, my advice
is that publishing often helps one to then be asked to become a
reviewer. It is also easier for young faculty to become involved as
a reviewer, or even an editor, if they carry expertise in newer areas
of research, such as big data computation. If you do get asked
to review a paper and accept, then being a timely and thorough
reviewer will often encourage the journal to continue asking you in
the future. If trainees are particularly interested in learning to review
manuscripts, I would encourage them to reach out to their senior
attendings to ask for opportunities to jointly review manuscripts.
JK: For those who are asked to become reviewers, what advice
to you have on how to review a manuscript successfully?
MD: There are some videos and websites about fundamentals
on how to do a review. I would begin with these steps. Most
importantly, reviewers are obligated to conduct reviews in an
ethical and accountable manner. It is important that the reviewer
and journal communicate clearly to ensure a fair review. A
reviewer must disclose if they have competing interests and respect
the confidentiality of the process. Finally, timeliness is a courtesy
that any reviewer should apply when agreeing (or declining) to
review a manuscript. Regarding the review process itself, the initial
step is to read the manuscript, supplementary data and ancillary
material thoroughly. There is an online guide and checklist for
young reviewers on how to approach each section of a manuscript
(see links). Have an understanding of what the particular journal’s
mission is regarding the articles they are most interested in
publishing. Follow the journal instruction format for writing
the review, and be specific in your critiques whenever possible,
but refrain from being hostile, derogatory or inflammatory. Most
journals allow reviewers to provide confidential comments to
the editor in addition to the comments provided to the authors.
Often journals will ask the reviewer to make a recommendation
to accept, revise or reject the manuscript. This recommendation
should not be stated in the comments to authors; however,
the comments to the authors should be consistent with the
recommendation. Overall, I recommend that reviewers step back
and figure out if the question the authors are asking makes sense
and whether that question is important. Then, you can use that
framework to shape your thoughts as you delve into the details of
JK: Is there any formal training available for those who would
like to become better versed in the review process?
MD: This is an interesting question. Currently, there is no formal
training process on how to review a manuscript. Often, if a senior
attending is willing, they offer opportunities for trainees and junior
faculty to review a manuscript with them and provide feedback on
the comments they construct for the editors and authors. However, I
am interested in starting a more formal reviewer mentoring program.
Please keep your eye out for details! Through this program, I hope
to identify mentors who are willing to give feedback to the trainee
or young faculty who is doing their first review(s). I also think that
conferences, such as the NCS Annual Meeting, are great forums in
which to provide advice. I held a reviewer’s boot camp at the last
meeting, and this year we will have a session on how to get your
paper published in Boca Raton, Florida.
JK: Beyond being a reviewer, how does one get selected to serve
on an editorial board?
MD: Editorial boards are often a combination of big names in the
field with those who have an established record of reviewing for
the journal. Thus, the best way for young clinicians to get involved
is to continue seeking out reviewer opportunities and then
showing a willingness to complete thoughtful, timely reviews.
JK: What are some responsibilities and challenges you have
faced in becoming the editor-in-chief?
MD: The process of being an editor is complicated. Additionally,
medical publishing in general (like most other publishing) is going
through a transition from print to electronic format. While there
are cost savings associated with not printing issues of a journal, a
lot of the traditional advertising revenue disappears, so there is less
resource support to generate future issues. Also in this transition
of becoming solely electronic, it is hard to maintain the sense
of “wholeness” of a print journal, for instance, tying together an
editorial with a research paper and a clinical review. As editor, I
must also keep in mind the importance of the impact factor, but
balance that with the importance of allowing young people to
publish in the journal. For instance, the impact factor is defined the
number of citations an article receives, and trainees often publish
case reports or small articles that do not lead to a large number of
citations. However, I think it is important to allow junior clinicians
the opportunity to publish and contribute to the journal, so trying
to optimize ways of doing that can be a challenge.