I’m working on a review for Soil Biology and Biochemistry. I’ve reviewed papers for quite a few different journals, now, but this is my first for SBB. I’m actually excited, because it’s one of the top journals in my field (and it’s where I’m planning to submit my greenhouse trial work), and I’m eager to do my part to contribute to the scientific community.
My advisor recommends that you review at least 3 papers for every (first author?) paper you submit, in order to do your fair share. At that rate, I’m still behind what I owe (that would be 18 reviews… hopefully 21, 24 soon). I know eventually I’ll need to be able to do a review in just a couple of hours, but I figure that I’d better start out with the highest standards for myself. Thus, I really look at the paper in depth.
Usually I’ll start out by scanning the paper – abstract, key figures, discussion – to get a sense for what the authors are trying to say. Then I read it basically front-to-back, making extensive comments and notes as I go. I pull out the main points or criticisms I want to highlight, and I always go back and revise my comments to make sure they are phrased in a way I would like to hear, were I the author. The part I still find the hardest is the final recommendation – minor revisions, major revisions, or reject. Usually the problem is either that there are some fundamental underlying issues, which might be resolvable, but really require a dramatic refocusing (is it possible?), or that the paper is basically fine, but not particularly exciting or new (is this the right journal?).
It’s a great way to spend a rainy summer afternoon!