Peer review is the primary mechanism by which the quality of research is judged. Appearance in peer-reviewed publications is also the most common requirement for securing further research funding and advancement in the professional career.

Scientific journals publishing peer-reviewed articles depend heavily on the scientific referees or reviewers who typically volunteer their time and expertise. In most circumstances, at least two reviewers are solicited to evaluate a manuscript; in cases of controversy or strong disagreement regarding the merits of the work, an additional review may also be solicited or one of the journal’s editors might give an evaluation. In addition to fairness in judgment and expertise in the field, peer reviewers have significant responsibilities toward authors, editors, and readers.

Peer-reviewer responsibilities toward authors

  • Provide written, unbiased feedback in a timely manner on the scholarly merits and the scientific value of the work, together with the documented basis for the reviewer’s opinion
  • Indicate whether the writing is clear, concise, and relevant
  • Rate the work’s composition, scientific accuracy, originality, and interest to the journal’s readers
  • Avoid personal comments or criticism
  • Maintain the confidentiality of the review process: not sharing, discussing with third parties, or disclosing information from the reviewed paper

Peer-reviewer responsibilities toward editors

  • Notify the editor immediately if unable to review the work promptly.
  • Alert the editor to any potential personal or financial conflict of interest and declining to review when a possibility of a conflict exists.
  • Comply with the editor’s written instructions on the journal’s expectations for the scope, content, and quality of the review.
  • Provide a thoughtful, fair, constructive, and informative critique of the submitted work, which may include supplementary material provided to the journal by the author.
  • Determine scientific merit, originality, and scope of the work; indicating ways to improve it; recommending acceptance or rejection using whatever rating scale the editor deems most useful.
  • Note any ethical concerns, such as any violation of accepted norms of ethical treatment of animal or human subjects or substantial similarity between the reviewed manuscript and any published paper or any manuscript concurrently submitted to another journal that may be known to the reviewer.
  • Refrain from direct contact with the author.

Reviewer responsibilities toward readers

  • Ensure that published articles meet the journal’s standards.
  • Protect readers from incorrect or flawed research or studies that cannot be validated by others.
  • Be alert to any failure to cite relevant work by other scientists.

Examples of Reviewer Impropriety

  • Misrepresenting facts in a review
  • Unreasonably delaying the review process
  • Unfairly criticizing a competitor’s work
  • Breaching the confidentiality of the review
  • Proposing changes that appear to merely support the reviewer’s own work or hypotheses
  • Making use of confidential information to achieve personal or professional gain
  • Using ideas or text from a manuscript under review
  • Including personal or ad hominem criticism of the author(s)
  • Failing to disclose a conflict of interest that would have excluded the reviewer from the process

These guidelines are adapted from the Council of Scientific Editors’ “White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific Journal Publications” (Reviewer Role and Responsibilities section updated June 2020).

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