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How to Review Articles

Download our Reviewer's Guide for further insight in to the peer review process.

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For the inexperienced or first time reviewer the peer review process can seem like a daunting one. Below we present some advice and guidance about how to conduct a review and put together a reviewer report that will be effective and beneficial to authors.  

We are grateful for the support of all of our referees in helping authors to enhance and develop their papers. Please visit the Reviewer Rewards page to learn more about discounts and free journal access offered to reviewers of articles for SAGE journals.

For more insight into how to conduct a review Mike Blades, Editor of Applied Spectroscopy, has written a blog post about peer review for Peer Review Week 2017 entitled 'A roadpage for peer review: Revisiting Erica Frank’s 1996 suggestions'. 


Identity – Sometimes a reviewer will want to involve junior researchers in the review of an article as it can be good practice and experience for that person. However, you should ensure that you obtain permission from the journal editor prior to accepting the invitation to review. The names of everyone involved in doing the review should be submitted to the editor so that the journal records accurately reflect the review process that took place. Full guidelines for peer reviewers can be found on the Committee on Publication Ethics website here.  

Timeliness – We understand that our reviewers are busy so it won’t always be possible for invitations to be accepted. Please let us know as soon as possible if they need to refuse a review or if a problem arises after the invitation has been accepted. Most journal editors are grateful to receive suggestions about someone else that might be suitable to do the review if you have to decline the invitation.

Conflict of Interest – it is important to highlight to the journal editor any conflict of interest that you feel might occur if you review the paper. Please do so as discretely and as quickly as possible.

Discussion – it is important to discuss with the journal editor any concerns that you have about the paper or their specific requirements for review if you are being invited to review for the first time. Editors are usually open to discussing their expectations and journal requirements with reviewers.

Ethics – Read the COPE guidelines for peer reviewers and visit the Ethics page of this Reviewer Gateway for more information about ethics matters related to peer review.

Individual Journal Reviewer Guidelines
It is usually the case that the best reviews are the ones that provide a thorough analysis of the content and discuss how it contributes (or maybe doesn’t contribute!) to the specific field. Some journals carry specific reviewer guidelines, so please check the journal’s website before embarking on your report. These guidelines will sometimes include a list of questions and will usually offer the reviewer the chance to make general comments.

If a journal does not offer a structured questionnaire or form for reviewers, it can be useful to think about the following things as you read the paper to help you structure your report:

What to look out for and comment on

  • Read the paper very carefully.
  • Relevance to the publication (most editors will reject at submission those articles that do not match the aims and scope of the journal, but it is worth considering this as you read the paper).
  • Significance of the research within the field.
  • Originality of the work conducted. It is also important to consider whether the author has ever published a substantially similar paper elsewhere (if you suspect the work may not be original, please view our ethics page for information about how to deal with a variety of situations).
  • The methodology employed during the research.
  • Technical accuracy.

Structure and Communication

  • Accuracy of references.
  • Structure of the paper overall, communication of main points and flow of argument.
  • Quality of written language and structure of the article.
  • Effectiveness of the article abstract and introduction (some journals will request that authors write structured abstracts, so it may be useful to consult other published papers or the manuscript submission guidelines to help you judge the effectiveness of this section of the paper).
  • Whether the argument is clear and logical and the conclusions presented are supported by the results or evidence presented.
  • Whether the title of the article is suitable or effective.
  • Whether the abstract is a good summary of the article.
  • Whether the work meets with the article types accepted by the journal.
  • The accessibility of the paper to a broad readership.
  • Whether the paper is internally consistent.

Feedback in your reviewer report – giving advice to authors and suggesting revisions

  • Be as objective as possible in your comments and criticisms and avoid making negative comments about work referenced in the article.
  • Be specific and as constructive as possible in your criticism. Be clear about what needs to be added or revised.
  • If relevant, make suggestions about additional literature that the author might read to enrich or improve their arguments.
  • You should ensure that you are clear which of your comments you are happy for the author to see and which are meant specifically for the journal editor in order to avoid confusion or bad feeling.
  • While peer reviewers should feel free to make general comments on written quality and make suggestions about how articles might be improved by broadening reading of other literature, it is not the job of the peer reviewer to rewrite articles or suggest detailed changes to wording. SAGE provides useful information for authors in our Author Gateway including details about SAGE MILES Manuscript Improvement and Language Editing Services.

Making a decision

  • Most journals will ask you to recommend whether a paper should be accepted, rejected or revised (major or minor revisions).
  • Some journals will ask you to look over the changes made to a paper after peer review to ensure that improvements have been adequately made.

Most important – keep all activity, content and comments relating to the paper confidential.

For information on ethics and responsibility and how to act if you suspect that misconduct has taken place, please see the Ethics section of this Gateway and remember to keep your suspicions confidential, between you and the journal editor, at all times. We are committed to upholding the integrity of the work we publish.