LuAnne Thompson from the University of Washington sent the following information on reviewing papers and proposals. Thanks LuAnne!
I thought I would write some tips about how to review papers and proposals for the first timers. The first time you get a paper to review, you often don’t know how detailed to be with your comments, you don’t trust your opinion on the work, and you spend too much time on the review. You will find that as you review more proposals and papers it gets easier, mostly because you trust your first impressions more. I hope that the following tips will help with your first few times.
General comments for both papers and proposals
- First of all don’t spend more than one day (total) on either a proposal or paper review!
- When I review a paper or proposal, I often give them a quick read to get a first impression, then I go back, usually on a different day, making notes as I read. Then I write up the notes. Before you start writing the review, be sure that you make a note of the format of the review that the journal/funding agent wants. For instance, for NSF, they want separate statements for Intellectual Merit, Broader Impacts, and Summary Statement.
- Be clear in your recommendations and give reasons why you are recommending acceptance/funding or rejection/not funding. This helps the editors/program managers.
- Don’t correct grammar. If the English not good enough to understand what the authors are saying, let them know that they need to have the paper read by either a professional editor, or if they are not native English speakers, by a native English speaking colleague.
- When reviewing a paper, make sure that can you follow their logic, and if you see flaws in their logic, and have questions that could be answered by an additional calculations, let them know. You don’t have to do the research for them though!
- When reviewing proposals, you should comment on your overall impression of the project and whether what they are proposing will answer the questions that they are asking, but do not suggest other calculations approaches or how to rewrite the proposal. Because the reviewers and panel members are different every time you submit a proposal, if the authors take your suggestions seriously and the next reviewers don’t like the suggestions, you can put the proposers in a bind. Instead, focus on logic flaws, whether the questions that they are asking are important, and whether they are using techniques that will allow them to answer those questions.
- Ask to see proposals and reviews from some of your senior colleagues to get an idea of how well reviewed and poorly reviewed proposals read, and how reviews are generally written.