In the shoes of a peer-reviewer

As psychologists and, more importantly, as psychology students, we heavily rely on the peer-review process. When conducting an online search for journal articles that shall inform our next research project or assignment, we expect to find high-quality research right then and there. The peer-review process saves us time; we approach our search with the assumption that a large amount of articles that we find (at least those published in peer-reviewed journals) provide us with valuable insights into the area we are focussing on, even by just reading through the abstract. The reviewer is our friend! In this post I will offer some insight into my personal experiences regarding the peer-review process from the standpoint of the reviewer. More specifically I will highlight how I have systematically approached manuscripts that I was asked to review.

Often someone’s friend is someone else’s foe! In the case of the reviewer, this is the author of a scientific paper. A reviewer’s job is to criticise the author as harshly as possible in order to push them to become a better author and researcher. Criticising another person’s work is important, but it opens a can of worms with the central question of your own capabilities, when asked to review research. I was asked to review research as part of a portfolio for the very first time last fall.

Do you wonder how I felt about this? Well, one word comes to mind: INTIMIDATED!!!  Just opening the files sent to me by my lecturer was a challenge – it took me several days! When it came to give my peers’ work a critical review in a field that I was considered to be an “expert” in (undergraduate research), I realised that this would be my first baby-step towards being a good scientist. Reading the first paper (out of two) my insecure thoughts gave way to my keenness to do a good job.

My “three steps review”-approach

  1. The first part of my review was easy, because it surrounded technical recommendations. With the help of my friend “Purdue OWL”  I refreshed my knowledge concerning APA referencing (check out the JEPS Bulletin post on further on-line resources). I found that it is very easy to criticise someone’s work, if you have black-and-white proof (which is of course rare in psychology) suggesting that they have done something wrong.
  2. The content review was a little bit trickier. First, I got a general idea of the area by reading research referenced by the author and focusing primarily on methods used and recommendations made in the discussion/concluding remarks. It turned out that the first recommendations that came to my mind while reading the manuscripts were probably the best (e.g. introducing an appropriate control group, clarifying methods used). After all, four eyes see more than two.
  3. Lastly I conducted a review on the appropriateness of the statistics used. This one was difficult to say the least! Determining, whether the raw data has been treated appropriately without actually having it in front of me was a problem that I guess almost every reviewer faces. However I compared the results to the design and gave it my best shot. Mostly I approached this process intuitively, (after all I have done some SPSSing before being a postgraduate) but I also checked the results sections of papers employing a similar design.

How I have benefitted from the peer-review process and lessons to be learned for me and other authors

Overall there was one major lesson to be learned here – make sure that the things you write will work not only in your head, but do so on also paper! The main aim of scientific journal articles is to spread the word about what you have found to a wide audience. The second lesson is simple, but ignored by most: back to the basics! Reference immediately after you cite (i.e. while writing) to make it less daunting (it really works!), don’t be afraid to check referencing manuals if you’re unsure (we all do it from time to time) and check your overall manuscript for APA style before submission. Finally, discuss your idea with as many people as possible before even starting your research. Again: four eyes see more than two and two minds know more than one!

Keep this in mind when making your next submission to JEPS!


Julia Ouzia is a German national who has lived in the United Kingdom for over seven years. Since then she has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Child Psychology. Julia is currently interested in bilingual learning and cognition doing a PhD in Brain and Cognition at Anglia Ruskin University. She has also been part of the Executive Board and the Board of Management of EFPSA.