Career advice

Challenges and rewards of being a peer reviewer

Overcoming her initial doubts, Elizabeth Wake became a regular reviewer for a professional journal and now relishes this important and rewarding role.

Overcoming her initial doubts, Elizabeth Wake became a regular reviewer for a professional journal and now relishes this important and rewarding role 

Peer reviewer
Reviewers contribute to sharing best practice. Picture: iStock

When it comes to new work opportunities, my motto has always been ‘just say yes’. This has led me to many fantastic opportunities and experiences, including reviewing for professional journals.

When I first agreed to act as a peer reviewer, I felt excited and honoured at being asked, but I also doubted my ability to perform this role successfully. How could I be sure that what I thought about the article was right? Would I be able to present my thoughts well?

Luckily for me, I had an amazing mentor who guided me through the process. This experience led me to apply successfully to become a regular reviewer for Nurse Researcher journal.

When the first article for Nurse Researcher appeared in my inbox, again I said ‘yes’ and again doubted my ability.

Time and effort

I set about the task, though, and found that my background in academia, which involves mentoring and facilitating students and working as a course convener, helped me to assess the structure and flow of the article, how the objectives had been achieved, whether it was interesting and so on.

I was conscious throughout the process that someone had invested a great deal of time and effort into producing this piece of work. But the role of reviewer is crucial to the future of professional nursing – you are accountable and responsible for ensuring that only the best articles are published, because these are what future practice is based on. The care you receive one day may be due to an article that you once reviewed.

It is also important to be realistic and accept reviews that are within your scope of practice, knowledge base and interest area.

As a reviewer, you can make a meaningful contribution to the sharing of best practice. Use the support around you and ask for advice and guidance, but ensure that the thoughts reflected in your feedback are your own and that someone else doesn’t write the review for you – you should learn as much as you can from the exercise.

Words of support

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when your workload would prevent you from meeting the publication’s deadline. The authors have put a lot of time and effort into creating their manuscript, so whether it is good or bad they also deserve timely feedback.

The feedback you provide should be constructive, even if the manuscript is awful. Provide guidance and explain your feedback. Be critical but offer words of support.

In such circumstances, I try to imagine the manuscript as being mine and what I would want to know and need to achieve for it to be accepted for publication.

Whether as an author or a reviewer, you don’t know what you can achieve until you try. My aim is to become a ‘go to’ person when editors want an article to be reviewed, and I can only achieve this by saying ‘yes’ most of the time.

Elizabeth Wake is a trauma research coordinator at Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, Queensland, Australia

Recommended reading

Ghosh R (2016) Revelations on my Journey to Becoming an Excellent Reviewer. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 28, 3, 48-52.

This article is for subscribers only