Ten reasons to accept your (next) invitation to review

Why saying “yes” could prove an enriching and rewarding experience in more ways than one

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The over-familiar chime sounds and before you know it, your eyes are drawn to your inbox where there now resides a new inhabitant: “Invitation to review…”. You might sigh, you might groan, you might even feel apprehensive, but maybe this is a cause for celebration rather than commiseration? Critical peer review is at the heart of the academic machine and has been for some considerable time. Indeed, a 2015 PRC survey of researchers demonstrated that over 80 percent agreed that peer review provides essential control in scientific communication. Your contribution is a small, but vital part of this reciprocal activity and what’s more it has many benefits to offer you as referee.

In the following, we offer ten reasons why you should consider accepting the invitation:

  1. Quid pro quo
    One of the most common reasons reviewers cite for refereeing is that they’re seeking to return a favour they’ve received in the past as an author: discharging a professional obligation in other words. This explains that 93 percent of researchers surveyed in 2015 gave “playing a part as a member of the community” as a reason for reviewing. But there is a distinct advantage to engaging with the academic publication process in this way – it allows you to…
  2. Stay at the forefront
    Taking an active part in reviewing new papers allows you to remain in the vanguard of your field. After all, you’ll be one of the first to know about new research and findings – often ones which may have direct bearing on your own topic(s) of interest. This gives you a distinct competitive edge – and serves to cement your position as being on top of the latest state-of-play. It’s also a great opportunity for…
  3. Mentoring new talent
    Acting as a referee allows you to develop some useful mentoring skills and help shape the career of younger or less-experienced authors. This is a facility which you will need if you wish to advance your academic career. Even if you’re an early career researcher, however, there’s an opportunity to…
  4. Engage with the literature even before authoring yourself
    Even if you’ve not yet joined the ranks of published authors, there’s no reason why you can’t act as a reviewer. You have incredible insights into your area of expertise and it is this which the editor of a journal will seek to draw upon when asking you to review. What’s more, it also serves to improve your reading ability, and that’s not all. Alongside polishing your reading ability, you should also…
  5. Evolve and develop critical thinking (and criticism) skills
    Acting as a reviewer (or co-reviewer for that matter!) forces you to develop and hone your critical thinking skills. That being said, there is a particular art to the formulation of positive criticism which can be of benefit to even the most experienced of us. When building links through reviewing with the other members of your community, it pays to operate with tact and courtesy. This in turn makes it easier to…
  6. Network (with editors and journals)
    You never know where accepting an invitation to review might lead… At the very least it is a great way of establishing and building up a network of highly respected and well-placed colleagues. Ultimately, it could lead to an invitation to an editorial board or one day even to an editorship of your own! Even if such material benefits take a while to manifest themselves, there is a certain cachet in being one of those…
  7. Helping to steer science
    As a referee, you’re placing your hand on the tiller – and thus playing an active role in determining what gets published, and in what form. Three quarters of those questioned for the PRC study agreed that peer review improves the quality of the published paper, so don’t discount the part you play here. Your insights and insider knowledge of an area will help the journal’s editor to decide the outcome of this paper. In addition, your close familiarity can also serve to…
  8. Help prevent bad science and uphold standards
    Unfortunately, ethical breaches occur more regularly than we might like and one of the key bulwarks against such issues is the protection that derives from a reviewer with close knowledge of the field and its literature carefully reviewing the paper. Despite automated plagiarism checking, there is no substitute for the intuition and insight of a referee whose nose twitches as they read a paper, thinking “I’ve seen this before!”. Knowing that this sort of scrutiny is being applied to papers certainly helps you to…
  9. See the experience from the other side
    Being a part of the peer review process as a referee is a tremendous advantage for when you come to write your own paper(s). Knowing what a reviewer will be looking for gives you an advantage – you can prepare and protect your paper before submitting and give it maximum chance of getting accepted. Finally, one thing that we’ve not mentioned about reviewing is that…
  10. It’s fun!
    With all these material and philosophical drivers, it’s easy to forget that reviewing can also be a great experience in its own right. Looking at, helping to develop, and generally engaging with emerging scholarship can be a tremendous buzz. Getting the acknowledgement from the editor and seeing the comments of the other reviewer(s) helps to bring things together and rounds off the sense of satisfaction in being a key part of a critical process.

We hope that the above suggestions have given you pause for thought when thinking about turning down that next invitation to review. There are other reasons for saying yes, of course. For example, participating in peer review might well count towards your professional development and career building – after all, evaluation committees are increasingly taking note of refereeing activity. You can also track and promote your reviewing activity through ORCID, Mendeley, Publons and/or on the Elsevier My Reviews Profile. Whatever reason resonates with you, however: seize it and make the most out of your next reviewing opportunity.

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