A helping hand for early career reviewers

A real-life, hands-on approach like this equips future reviewers like never before

A real-life, hands-on approach like this equips future reviewers like never before." — Irene Kanter-Schlifke, Publisher

In many areas of research, the growth of paper submissions is outpacing the growth of qualified reviewers and resulting in pressure on the peer review system. As an editor, you will be only too aware of the challenge of finding good reviewers. Together with our editorial community, journal publishers at Elsevier have been working on a number of programs to develop and nurture your future pool of reviewers.

Reviewer Guidelines

Following a request from reviewers for increased support and guidance, and tests by current journal editors, the Reviewer Guidelines are now available on all Elsevier journal homepages and on our Reviewers’ homepage.

A step-by-step guide through the various stages of the peer-review process, the guidelines begin with the ‘purpose of peer review’ (addressing why reviewers should review); move on to conducting the review itself (what criteria should the reviewer be taking into account); and finish with submitting the report to the editor. They include key topics relevant to peer review, such as conducting the review, originality of research, the structure of a paper and ethical issues, together with a sample peer review report.

Reviewer Workshops – the next step

Reviewer Workshops allow participants to put the Reviewer Guidelines into context. “They aim to promote and explain the fundamentals and techniques that reviewers should adhere to when reviewing manuscripts for academic journals,” explains Andrea Hoogenkamp-O’Brien, Customer Communications Manager. Such workshops have been taking place across China, together with input from some Elsevier journal editors giving young Chinese scientists the opportunity to review scientific papers for international journals and to get hands-on training.

During a workshop, reviewers receive practical information on Elsevier publishing policies and procedures together with advice from other reviewers and editors, all with the aim to expedite the process of reviewing papers. Throughout the sessions, there is thorough discussion of the philosophy of peer review, various steps of the review process and examples from recent journals.

“The result is that reviewers get a real opportunity to better understand the principles and methods involved in reviewing for an international journal,” notes Hoogenkamp-O’Brien. "This is invaluable experience for the next step in our program."

Reviewer Mentorship Program

This program aims to extend the help given to reviewers during workshops by also giving some coaching and direct feedback on the reports that the trainees have submitted. Elsevier Publisher Irene Kanter-Schlifke has been piloting this program in two Institutions; Lille University, France, and the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany. Each program involved 10-12 trainees.

The Reviewer Mentorship Program consists of two parts:

  • Part one – organization of the workshop itself at an institute or university. The journal publisher works together with an editor who is affiliated to the institute or university.
  • Part two – the setting up of a support EES site (our online submission, peer-review and editorial system) which is populated with original manuscripts selected by the editor. This is due to go live shortly.

Before the workshop, trainees must:

  • review an original manuscript;
  • complete the journal’s reviewer checklist; and
  • submit their report to the workshop tutors (the publisher and the editor).

“It is important that the trainees review a manuscript that is both controversial and in their area of expertise. During the workshop, an introduction on reviewing is given, followed by a discussion of the review and disclosure of  the original ‘fate’ of the paper (reviews and the final article, if accepted for publication). A real-life, hands-on approach like this equips future reviewers like never before,” explains Kanter-Schlifke.

After the workshop, trainees are invited through the system to review at least two manuscripts within a given timeframe. Each trainee is supported by a mentor who discusses the reviews with the trainee and gives feedback and guidance. The mentor finally decides when a trainee has gained enough experience to review live manuscripts. After the program, each trainee receives a certificate of participation from Elsevier.

“There are a few thoughts on what defines a good reviewer,” adds Hoogenkamp-O’Brien. “The definition I particularly like is: A good reviewer should know the journal and should have the knowledge to be able to fairly and objectively give a good report of the manuscript they are reviewing. They should concentrate on offering useful advice to authors rather than giving summary reports to editors.”

We want to hear your views on these and other issues surrounding the challenges faced by editors and peer review. Please share your thoughts by posting a comment at the bottom of this page.

Author biography

Irene Kanter-SchlifkeIrene Kanter-Schlifke
In 2008, Irene began work as a Publisher for Elsevier’s Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences portfolio of journals. In her current role as publisher, she has been working on a number of exciting initiatives with her editors and colleagues, one of which is helping to organize and run a mentorship program for new reviewers. She holds a PhD in Neurology from Wallenberg Neuroscience Centre, in Lund, Sweden. Before coming to Elsevier, she worked at Centocor (now Janssen Biologics), part of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals in The Netherlands.

Andrea Hoogenkamp-O'BrienAndrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien
Andrea has recently started working in the Strategy and Journal Services department of Elsevier in Amsterdam, where she is part of a team responsible for developing new initiatives to improve services for authors, editors and reviewers. She joins Elsevier from FEMS in Delft where she had worked as the Editorial Coordinator, responsible for managing the publications unit, which publishes five FEMS Microbiology journals. Prior to that, Andrea held the position of Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam.

Related Articles

  • Issue 28 - November 2009: Peer review reprised
  • Issue 27 - August 2009: Reviewing the review process
  • Issue 25 - February 2009: Supporting authors and reviewers

Archived comments

lorin vant-hull says: July 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

These workshops may be fine, although the effort involved seems a bit excessive. I think what is needed is a small document which provides instruction and ideas and advice on how to provide a useful and valid review. Then the reviewer needs to have some idea of how to arrive at what his brief recommendation is: Reject, major or minor changes, or publish, and if he/she wishes to review the final article.

Cody Peeples says: July 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm

My institution periodically offers a free seminar on the peer-review process. It lasts a few hours where an experienced speaker uses examples from his own experiences. This sort of thing has been very helpful for myself and others. It was most enlightening to discuss some of the problems with peer-review in contrast to the crucial benefits it provides to all in the various roles of researchers, reviewers, writers, and humans struggling to understand and master more of the universe. Something like this would be a great idea if your institution lacks it.

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