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The Dos and Don’ts of Peer Reviewing

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The Editors’ Vox blog is produced by the Publications Department of AGU.

Peer review is essential for research in all fields of science. Every year, numerous professionals generously offer their time to improve scientific knowledge and give feedback to their colleagues by evaluating articles in AGU’s journals. Whether you are a new researcher getting ready to review your first article, or an experienced expert, it is crucial to know your responsibilities as a reviewer and give helpful critiques to authors.

When composing your review, it is essential to treat others with the same respect that you would like to receive. Controlling your tone and being aware of any unintentional biases is crucial in creating a considerate and beneficial review. To assist, we have compiled a brief guide on what should and should not be included in your peer review feedback.

What are the main characteristics of a helpful evaluation?

Typically, the most beneficial review will start by giving a broad overview of the main idea of the paper and how suitable it is for the journal. Then, it should mention the key points that need to be addressed during the revision process. These can be further elaborated on in additional comments or paragraphs. Any minor suggestions or changes should be listed separately, referencing the specific line numbers.

In AGU’s journals, reviewers have the option to provide private comments to the Editor on the reviewer form and suggest whether the manuscript warrants further promotion upon publication.

What should reviewers steer clear of when composing a review?

AGU is dedicated to creating a fair and inclusive atmosphere for scientific publishing. This involves reducing the impact of unintentional prejudices in the peer review system. Reviewers can achieve this by:

  • Looking at the study described in the article, rather than the personal characteristics of the authors, such as their name, language, institution, nationality, and gender.

  • can help you make fair and objective decisions.

    Recognizing any unconscious biases that you may possess can assist you in making unbiased and impartial choices.

  • Thoughtfully analyzing the rationale behind your suggestion.

It is crucial to steer clear of:

Vague Statements

“Please provide constructive feedback instead of criticizing the author’s efforts. If possible, give specific examples and indicate the line numbers where those examples can be found within the text.”

Commanding Statements

Rewording: Third person is the preferred perspective when writing reviews to avoid sounding accusatory. It is important to consider how the language may come across from the authors’ point of view and make adjustments to any accusatory or demanding language.

Gendered Statements

Do not include negative statements or gender stereotypes in your reviews; focus on the science instead.

Rephrase the following statement to make it more culturally sensitive.

Prevent making statements that could be considered offensive or inappropriate towards any culture.

Interpreting the authors’ level of English fluency as an indicator of the quality of the science in a manuscript is not accurate. The time at which a language was acquired does not necessarily reflect technical proficiency.

If the manuscript contains numerous grammatical, spelling, and editing mistakes that hinder its comprehensibility, it is advisable to give 3-5 specific instances of the errors found in the paper (along with line numbers, if possible). This will help the authors identify and rectify the errors. You may also suggest editing services, such as American Journal Experts (AJE), which offers a 20% discount to AGU members.

Inflammatory Statements

Unconstructive reviews that assume things about the paper without offering specific feedback are not beneficial to the author. Comments on reviews should give direction to the authors on how they can expand their research in order to make a contribution to the field. These comments should provide the authors with practical feedback.

Assuming the Authors’ Intentions

Reviews should not call the authors’ qualifications into question. Instead, reviewers should elaborate on where the science or writing is lacking.

Avoid using personal attacks in any form.

Reviews should be unbiased, respectful, and constructive. Personal attacks that call an author’s character into question should never be included in a peer review. If a reviewer cannot ensure this, then they should recuse themselves from the review. If any conflicts of interest are present that could impact a review, reviewers must disclose this to the Editor prior to accepting a review invitation.

As suggested in the Peer Review webinar, after finishing your review, it may be beneficial to carefully review your comments while also consulting the reviewer tone table. Biases can unknowingly influence your writing, so it’s wise to take a moment to reflect on how your tone may be interpreted.

Peer review is an essential component of scientific publishing, and when done constructively and respectfully, it can elevate science to new levels. Being cognizant of unconscious biases and reflecting on your tone can help you write a helpful review that is worthwhile and productive for the authors.

To learn how to write a high-quality and helpful review, you can view the AGU Publications Peer Review webinar and review the criteria for AGU’s journals. The webinar covers peer review fundamentals and tips for effectively communicating with authors in a professional manner.

There are numerous free online courses available that can provide more information on the peer review process and offer tips on becoming an effective reviewer. A complete list of these courses can be found at the conclusion of the slide deck for the Peer Review webinar.

To learn more about ethics and how they relate to your role as a reviewer, we recommend reviewing our guidelines on scientific ethics and integrity.

If you have any inquiries or issues that you would like to communicate with us, please feel free to reach out to the AGU Publications department at [email protected] anytime.

—Meghan Ramil ([email protected]; 0009-0002-7190-7905), Senior Program Specialist, AGU Publications; Chris Micucci (0009-0001-0859-0872), Program Coordinator, AGU Publications; and Kaustubh Thirumalai (

I am the Associate Editor for Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, with the identification number 0000-0002-7875-4182.

Reference: Ramil, M., C. Micucci, and K. Thirumalai (2023), A Guide to Effective Peer Reviewing, Eos, 104, Published on September 27, 2023.

This piece does not reflect the viewpoint of AGU, Eos, or any related entities. It is strictly the viewpoint of the author(s).

Text © 2023. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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