As a career scientist, I review scientific papers regularly, at least once every month. For instance, I reviewed a total of 18 papers in 2021, and many of them 2 ~ 3 times for revisions. I think I can speak for almost everyone that nobody really enjoys reviewing papers. We do it because it is a duty. Well, someone has to review our papers. So, we will need to do the same for others, right? In my earlier days, I used to spend several days reviewing one paper. Now, I usually finish my review within 3 ~ 4 hours. I first read the manuscript briefly, abstract, plots, results, and conclusion in that order to get some ideas about the paper, before reading the entire paper. Obviously, well-written papers are very easy to follow. So, I can finish my review and make a recommendation quickly. But, a large number of the manuscripts I have reviewed so far were not so well-written. So, I usually ended up spending too much time correcting sentences after sentences before I could evaluate the scientific content and contribution of an article. That’s the part that I hate the most with a paper review. When that happens, I get exhausted after completing my review, and my productivity goes down very quickly afterward. So, I usually start my review in the afternoon around 2 pm. Of course, the review often continues until 10 pm or to the next day.
In some journals including all American Meteorological Society (AMS) journals, after submitting my review, I can read reviews from other reviewers and the decision letter. I often find myself being more critical than other reviewers. When that happens, I feel guilty and ask myself if I am turning into a harsh and bitter senior scientist. Probably, I am. But, before submitting my review, I always ask myself if it would be acceptable to me if someone judges my own work with the same level of scrutiny. I see only one thing before I make the final recommendation for a paper. What is the new contribution of this paper, and does it advance our understanding? If the answer is “no” or “unclear”, my recommendation is a firm “rejection” regardless of how well a paper is written.
Sometimes, I am asked to review a paper written by my former colleagues or collaborators. I have reviewed some of those papers because I felt confident that I could serve as an impartial reviewer. But, rejecting a paper written by my friends or close colleagues sometimes negatively affects my mental health. So, I tend to decline such review requests with a “conflict of interest” note.
I found many useful tips about paper review in the following articles and web links. One thing that caught my eye is that writing something like “expect the revised manuscript to be proofread by native English speakers” in a review letter is inappropriate and no longer acceptable (Schultz, 2022). So, be careful out there my fellow reviewers!
Benos, D. J., K. L. Kirk, and J. E. Hall. 2003: How to review a paper. Advances in physiology education, 27, 2, 47-52. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00057.2002
Schultz, D. M. 2022: How to be a more effective reviewer, Monthly Weather Review, 150, 6 1201-1205. https://doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-22-0102.1