How to write a peer review report

How to write a peer review report: tips and tricks for constructive reviews

9 mins


Peer review is an integral part of scholarly communication and academic publishing. A key player in this process is the peer reviewer, who is typically a recognized expert in the field. Through their peer review reports, reviewers can provide valuable and constructive feedback to authors and help them improve their manuscript. Yet, writing peer review reports can be challenging as there is no ‘’one size fits all approach’’, and some research papers can be particularly long or hard to interpret. Here, we share how to write a peer review report that offers the author constructive feedback to improve their research.

What is peer review?   

Peer review is the assessment of research outputs by other researchers in a scholarly field and is crucial at all stages of a research project. The purpose of the peer review process is to evaluate the validity, significance, and originality of research. Peer review, at its best, is a collaborative process where authors can engage in a constructive dialogue with experts in their field and receive helpful feedback to refine their work.

Different forms of peer review

Peer review can take various forms, so a reviewer’s experience will vary depending on what type of peer review a publishing venue uses.

Essentially, three key factors can help determine a peer review process:

  • Are the author and/or reviewer identities known? 
  • Are the reviewer reports published, and do they include the reviewer’s name? 
  • When does peer review take place? 

Based on these factors, there are five types of peer review reviewers can encounter:

Single-anonymous or single-blind peer review: In this type of peer review, reviewers will know the authors’ identity, but the authors will not know who the reviewers are. Reviewers also maintain their anonymity even after an article is published.

Double-anonymous or double-blind peer review: In this case, neither reviewers nor authors know each other’s identities. 

Open peer review: Most models supporting open peer review publish the peer review reports and/or reviewer identities, making the whole process fully transparent. As everything is openly available to all, this peer review reduces the possibility of bias or conflicts of interest. 

Post-publication peer review: In this type of peer review, an article gets published online almost immediately after passing some basic checks. After publication, invited reviewers or even readers can give feedback by adding their comments or reviews. 

How to write a genuinely helpful peer review report

A peer review report is usually a stand-alone document containing reviewer comments focusing on research paper sections. The most effective peer review reports are easy to follow and provide actionable feedback to improve an article. Even though there is no standard structure or template for a peer review report, there are some key steps you can take to structure and write your report in a digestible and useful way for the author.

Start by giving a high-level summary of what the research paper claims to report. Then, provide an overview of the article’s key strengths and weaknesses to showcase your overall impression of the research.

Next, situate the research in the context of the author(s)’s field. What are the potential impacts and implications of the research? Assessing how the research could potentially impact the field or society is extremely valuable, especially when reviewing openly, as other researchers, policymakers, and the general public could read your report.

Now it’s time to move into detailed comments and questions to address specific areas for improvement. First, outline any major issues the author(s) must address before the paper can pass peer review. Anything included here should be fundamental to the soundness of the current study.

Secondly, list any minor issues that affect the quality of the article but do not affect the overall conclusions of the research. Minor revisions should include typos, spelling or grammatical errors, missing references, technical clarifications, and data presentation.

For major and minor issues, structure your comments systematically, in line with the article structure or in the order they appear, so the author can easily address your feedback. End your report with your recommended course of action. Make each section stand out by using headings.

Peer reviewing tips

To further strengthen your peer review report and ensure it helps authors advance their work, you can also check out the tips below:

Read the article multiple times

Read the full text of the article and view all associated figures, tables, and data.

This first reading will help you form an initial overall impression of the manuscript and start thinking whether your eventual recommendation will be to accept or reject it. You should take notes while reading the paper so that you can start working on your report shortly after.

In cases where articles are particularly long or complex, you should expect to read the paper at least twice.

Be thorough and specific

A peer review report should discuss the article in full and individual points, demonstrating your understanding of the article’s core elements, such as the research question and methodology​. Plus, your comments should contain as much detail as possible, with references where appropriate, so the authors can address any issues fully.

Consider the statistics

It’s helpful if you comment on the number of replicates, the controls, and the statistical analyses. This information is crucial for understanding how robust the outcome is.

Organize your comments

When listing your specific concerns, separate them into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ points and consolidate the most minor points if your list is very long.

Be constructive in your criticism

Do not hesitate to include any concerns or criticisms you may have in your review; however, remember to do so constructively and respectfully. Review as you’d wish others to review your work and ensure that your comments focus on the scientific content of the article in question rather than the authors themselves.

Especially in cases where you have identified major flaws, and will recommend major revisions or the rejection of a paper, you should end your report with an encouraging tone to motivate the authors to address your feedback. Don’t hesitate to provide positive feedback in your peer review comments. If a paper you’ve asked to review is excellent, make sure to say so and explain why.

Examples of real peer review reports  

Take a look at some real peer review examples below to see what excellent peer review looks like in your field: 


Donald Hobern’s peer review report for the F1000Research Opinion Article, ‘Recommendations for connecting molecular sequence and biodiversity research infrastructures through ELIXIR‘. This is a very good example because the reviewer makes the topic of the article clear and highlights its strengths at the very beginning of the report. Plus, he organizes his comments in three separate sections—minor points, major points, and suggestions for readability improvements—and includes the relevant pages of the article making it easy for the author to address them.


Tamarind Haven’s peer review report for the F1000Research Opinion Article, for ‘Grant writing and grant peer review as questionable research practices‘. Here, the reviewer has structured their review using headlines which makes it very easy for authors and other readers to follow. In addition, even when highlighting flaws in the study, the reviewer does so in a constructive and professional way.

Social sciences

Axel Bowman’s peer review report for the F1000Research Research Article, ‘A grammatico-pragmatic analysis of the because X construction: Private expression within public expression’. In this thorough report, the reviewer presents in full detail his points for improvement whilst praising the positive elements of the article. The report concludes listing the reviewer’s recommendations making it easier for the author to understand what he needs to address.

Why should you get involved with peer review?

The benefits of peer review for authors and the wider public are clear. The peer review system helps improve the quality of manuscripts ensuring that research of a high standard gets published. According to a peer review survey from Sense about Science, 91% of researchers claim that peer review helped them improve a past paper. But what are the benefits for a peer reviewer and why should you get involved?

Demonstrate your expertise

Open peer review, in particular, can help you establish your presence as a credible and experienced researcher in your field. By allowing reviewers to share their names alongside reports, you can further demonstrate your reputation in the field and your value to your institution. Plus, even when reviewing is anonymous, you can still show your expertise in the field by sharing your reviewing activity on platforms like Clarivate.

Become part of a publisher’s network 

Many publishers or journals have communities with researchers who interact and discuss key themes or developments in the field. Reviewing for a particular publishing venue can give access to such networks and support connections for future collaborations. Being a regular reviewer can also give you the opportunity to become an editorial board member or guest advisor for a specific publishing venue.

Help uphold research integrity 

Reviewers can also play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of scientific research. Peer review allows the research community and the wider public to trust the research process and findings.

Keep up with the latest trends in the field

In addition, through peer review researchers have the opportunity to engage with, evaluate, and improve new research in the field. This way, they can broaden their knowledge and incorporate new ideas and techniques in their own work and research projects. 

Improve your writing skills

The peer review process requires reviewers to read through a manuscript and reflect on the strong and weak aspects of the paper. These can refer to the article’s writing style, readability, adequate use of the English language, presentation of information, or clarity of explanations. Such insights can help reviewers improve and refine their writing.

Writing a valuable and constructive peer review report can be daunting, especially if it’s your first review. Yet, your role as a peer reviewer is vital in ensuring the dissemination of robust, high-quality research. Interested in reviewing for one of our publishing venues? Read our peer review guidelines or contact our Editorial team to express your interest.

How much do you know about open peer review?

Discover how open peer review supports greater trust in research.