D.J. McPhee
11 March 2024
Posted inPeer Review Post authorD.J. McPhee

Writing a Peer Review Report

Peer review reports are incredibly important to authors. They help researchers to find ways to improve a manuscript. But not all peer review reports are the same, and sometimes they can be very unhelpful.

In this article, we’ll be covering the ways that a reviewer can provide the best report they can, and how you can incorporate these ideas into your own peer review pipeline.

What is the purpose of a peer review report?

When a manuscript has been submitted to your journal, you need to make sure that the manuscript is of a high quality and that the results are sound. The problem is that you and your staff might not know enough about the subject matter to make this determination. It is impossible for a person to know everything there is to know about all the different disciplines. It’s extremely hard for someone to know everything about their own specialization, let alone all of them. So, in the peer review process, we turn to experts in various fields to help make these determinations.

Broadly, the more peer review reports that an author gets, the more information that they have to improve their work.

Too many reports can cause significant delays, especially if some of these reports start producing contradictory information.

A good review report will communicate information in a polite and effective way.

What information should a peer review report contain?

Generally, you will want to make sure that your reports address a few specific things, as well as a handful of minor points. For example, most peer reviews will include a summary, major and minor issues, trivial issues, and recommendations. Generally though, you want to make sure that a peer review report includes four things:

  1. Summary of the research;
  2. Major and minor points to improve;
  3. Specific recommendations;
  4. Conclusions.

Remember that being clear about your expectations when it comes to peer reviews can help to ensure that peer review reports are useful. Remember, there are different kinds of peer review, so you need to make sure that your reports align with the method being used.

Summary of the research

It is useful for both the journal’s staff, as well as the authors, for a reviewer to summarize the paper in their own words. This helps authors to see what is being understood from their work and what the takeaways are. Having summaries from multiple reviewers also helps to see if there are differences in the takeaway messages of the manuscripts.

A clear understanding of how a paper is being interpreted is often accompanied with guidance of what to do to improve. If more emphasis needs to be placed on “Y” to make sure that the results of “X” are clear, this is actionable information. The summary for the peer review report can be given for the whole work, or can be broken up, section by section.

Major and minor points to improve

When a manuscript needs to be improved, this can generally take one of two forms. Needed changes might be “major” or “minor”. Major issues might be things like an experiment being incorrectly done or an assumption/conclusion being misrepresented. Major points typically need further work on the part of the authors to address. Minor issues might be things like terms being incorrectly defined or references needing to be updated properly. How they differ is in the resulting action needed by the authors. Make sure that there is an option in the peer review process to note whether or not problems are minor or substantive.

Specific recommendations

This is a bit difficult to define, as if you take 100 manuscript you might have 100 different examples. Here, the peer review process can help authors to improve their work in many different ways. Some examples of changes that might be needed include “the language of the manuscript needs to be improved” or “conclusions are not well defined”. The former might be addressed in a later stage of the publishing process, while the latter might need the authors to rewrite a conclusion section. Sometimes, information might be missing from a graphic, requiring updates. Importantly, your team needs to be able to determine if these recommendations are substantial enough to recommend major revisions to the authors, only minor revisions, or even consider rejection of a manuscript.


There are conclusions for the authors, but there are also conclusions for the journal. While the peer review process is designed to help authors to improve their work, that doesn’t always mean that it can be done easily. Sometimes, major experiments are needed to properly draw conclusions. Other times, a top to bottom rewrite of a manuscript is needed. Peer reviewers sometimes need to be able to candidly provide their thoughts on a paper without the author being made aware of it. While it is critical for civility to remain in the work, sometimes there are significant problems with a manuscript that can and should prevent it from being published.

Make sure that when it comes time for peer review, that your reviewers are given the opportunity to give your team honest feedback where they can make major recommendations without needing to have the authors involved.

Using a peer review report template

Templates are a great way to ensure that you get consistent reports. Not all peer reviewers will follow those templates in the way that you would like. But they are excellent tools to make life easier for your reviewers. Your staff will not need to waste time trying to find information, making the publishing process easier. Recommendations and issues can be clearly defined, and this can save time.

In the future, we’ll go over how to prepare a peer review template that can fit your needs.

So, what information does a peer review template need?

First of all, metrics. A peer review report can give a list of important details for reviewers to keep an eye out for. For example, novelty and scientific soundness are important. Interest to readers and overall merit are critical as well. Has the study has been correctly designed? The work needs to be technically sound. How were the analyses done? Is the data robust and can conclusions be drawn?

Make sure that your peer reviewers have the opportunity to highlight these factors. Remember, the peer review process is critical to improving your authors’ manuscripts, but it is also very important for you.

Your business’ reputation can be greatly impacted by poor-quality manuscripts. Making sure that weak manuscripts are identified early is very important.

D.J. McPhee
11 March 2024
Posted inPeer Review
Post author D.J. McPhee
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