AMS celebrates Peer Review Week 2023 by highlighting the 2024 Editor’s Award recipients, and sharing their thoughts on the importance of peer review, what non-researchers should understand about peer review, and how reviewers and authors should think about the process.
Explore this page and the AMS Front Page blog to hear what these dedicated volunteers have to say:
Sebastian Lech, Karlsuhe Institute of Technology, AIES
For dependably providing several high-quality reviews in the last two years
In my view, it is important to provide a fair and unbiased perspective on the manuscripts, with the readership of the journal in mind.
Randy Chase, Colorado State University, AIES/WAF
For providing thorough, excellent, prompt, and constructive reviews that help the authors improve their papers
I often learn about niche areas of research while doing paper reviews. This comes about because our community is often doing exciting research but not everyone can be an expert in every aspect of the research. Thus, while doing peer reviews I find myself saying: "Oh that's a neat method" or "I didn't know that, let me read more about it".
Qiaohong Sun, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, BAMS
For thoughtful and insightful critiques always focused on improving the quality of the work being reviewed
Engaging in peer reviews exposes me to works originating from individuals with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and styles, ultimately broadening my understanding of different approaches and ideas.
Stefan Kneifel, Ludwig-Maximilians University, BAMS
For insightful and timely reviews to help authors improve the quality of their manuscripts
Aaron Hill, Colorado State University, Cross-Journal
For providing constructive and insightful reviews on an exceptionally broad range of topics across AMS journals
Each author is afforded their own voice, and our job as reviewers is to uphold scientific standards while allowing authors to share their work and results in their own style. It is easy to suggest certain changes or improvements that insert our own voice into someone else's manuscript, so I make every effort to give authors freedom to address my concerns in the best way they see fit.
David Bodine, University of Oklahoma, JAMC
For providing timely, critical, and constructive reviews that helped improve the quality of scientific analyses
Providing constructive, critical reviews improves the quality of scientific research and is an important avenue for me to return the favor to other reviewers and editors who have helped me and my students improve our research through the review process.
Michael Fischer, University of Miami, JAS
For multiple high-quality and very thorough reviews that have been helpful in making critical editorial decisions
We're all humans. Writing a balanced review—that is, noting the areas that need to be improved, but also praising the authors for excellent analyses, explanation, or visualizations—reassure the authors that you (the reviewer) have a genuine desire to improve the quality of the manuscript. Receiving criticism can be challenging, but when it is expressed in a fair manner, I have found that the authors are more willing to accommodate my suggestions. This helps both sides as we work towards improving the quality of the manuscript and, ultimately, advancing the state of the science.
Peter Haynes, Cambridge University, JAS
For an extensive history of insightful reviews on many aspects of atmospheric dynamics
What seems obvious and what needs careful explanation varies a lot from one person to another. So if an individual reviewer's comment suggest that they don't understand the message of your paper then that is usually a valid prompt that more care is needed in the presentation. Sometimes that allows a more positive opportunity -- the paper can be presented as relevant to a broader research topic that you as the author had originally envisaged.
Bing Pu, University of Kansas, JCLI
For reviews that are consistently of high quality with especially meaningful assistance to the authors
[By peer reviewing] I better understand the peer review process and appreciate the efforts and time of reviewers and editors. Thorough and constructive reviews, which often take a lot of time to write, can be very helpful to the authors. It is amazing to get involved in the process to witness the improvement of manuscripts after revisions and eventually being published.
Riyu Lu, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, JCLI
For providing an impressively large number of reviews in a timely fashion
Reviewers [are] like the shelving staff in supermarkets. They, together with editors, check the papers and judge whether the papers are suitable for various journals, bring[ing] convenience to [the] customer [other researchers/readers].
Hailan Wang, NOAA Climate Prediction Center, JCLI
For consistently delivering detailed, informative and timely reviews
Scientific peer review is an essential process for maintaining standards and integrity of scientific journals.
Andrew Feldman, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, JHM
For constructive and detailed reviews of manuscripts addressing drought and land-atmosphere feedbacks
Reviewing papers is a great way to “take the pulse” of the community. It gives me a way to know which problems other researchers are trying to solve and how they are thinking about them. I sometimes even learn new methods – researchers will often execute their work so well that they teach you something new. Additionally, being on the other side of the review process gives me a fresh perspective on how I present my own work. For example, when reviewing a paper, if I come across a way to present data in a figure that does or does not work well for me, I will update my figure presentation to reflect that.
Mimi Hughes, NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory, JHM
For sustained excellence as a reviewer
Clarity of the writing and story is absolutely critical, and can make the difference between a mediocre and outstanding paper.
Elizabeth Yankovsky, New York University, JPO
For many thoughtful and helpful reviews of papers in a variety of sub-disciplines resulting in significant improvements in quality and impact
Aside from the scientific knowledge that I’ve gained from working on peer reviews, I’ve developed my understanding of scientific writing and communication. Working on peer reviews allows me to empathize with different approaches to scientific problem-solving. This gives me a wider perspective in my own research; I can imagine how others will perceive my results and emphasize what is unique in my own research philosophy.
Daniel Sanchez-Rivas, University of Bonn, JTECH
For prompt, in-depth, and fair reviews of technical manuscripts
Michael French, Stony Brook University, MWR
For providing numerous extremely thorough, thoughtful and constructive reviews over many years
Reviewing a paper is a balance between acknowledging the hard work of the authors while remembering that I am being asked to sign off on a permanent addition to the body of work in my field. The authors have very likely put a lot of effort into their submission and it is imperative to respect that in your writing style, even if you believe a submission has severe problems. I work to do that while also ensuring the most important part: that papers published in AMS journals reach the high scientific standards we have come to expect and which are necessary to have a functioning dynamic body of knowledge.
Luke Madaus, Jupiter Intelligence, WAF
For dependability in providing timely, comprehensive and scholarly reviews on wide-ranging topics, and for providing concise and constructive comments for all manuscripts
I enjoy seeing different ways that authors choose to tell a story with their results. That storytelling is a powerful way to make your work resonate with readers. I get satisfaction through the iteration of reviewer comments in helping to shape that story. It also gives me practice in how to help the people I mentor construct a scientific narrative that speaks through their voice and tells a clear story.
Sarah Fay Buckland, University of the West Indies, WCAS
For consistently providing thoughtful, detailed, and constructive reviews that reflect a tremendous commitment to high quality scholarship
Doing peer reviews has reinforced the understanding that it takes a ‘village’ to produce excellent research. A paper can have excellence in its core but still requires significant refining processes. Doing reviews makes me appreciate the value of perseverance as published research is not only for academic consumption. Research often can have the power to influence policies that can have global implications for decades to come. With this power comes immense responsibility to ensure that the peer-reviewed process is ethical and that what gets published is indeed of value and credibility. It is a humbling experience to be part of this process. Interacting with content produced by colleagues in my own study niches is also exciting, as it stimulates possible opportunities for future collaboration.
I always remind myself that every single paper I have published in an AMS journal has benefited substantially from the peer review process. The reviews I received were not always glowing reviews, and sometimes they weren't necessarily the nicest, but the reviews have always made the end paper better. I owe it to the others in my field to contribute, to the extent that I can, my expertise to do the same when I am reviewing their paper.
Putting yourself in the shoes of a reviewer as you write a manuscript is a great way to check whether you are communicating your work clearly and in a logical manner, as well as identifying potential weaknesses in your analysis.
The most important thing I have learned from reading my own paper reviews is that it is good to take a step back after having a complete draft and try to read it with a fresh set of eyes. When you spend a lot of time and effort drafting up a paper, it is easy to forget small things to include in the paper which would help the overall presentation and accessibility of the paper. In my first few papers this was something I often forgot and realized with the help of the reviewers that I should have explained some things better and included a few extra references and sentences here and there.
Some of the most intense and critical discussion of my works has occurred during the review stage. After deeply thinking about a problem (sometimes for years) and submitting a paper that I believe summarizes what I’ve learned to the best of my ability, reading reviews can be very eye-opening. Reviews offer clarity on whether the explanations that I’ve developed are understandable and rigorous enough to hold for other experts in the field. Reading reviews has given me appreciation for other scientists’ thought processes. Also, putting personal attachments regarding a paper aside, it can be rewarding to find reviewers that offer passionate and lengthy criticism. After going down a path of immersing oneself in a narrow and technical problem, reading (even harsh) reviews can offer affirmation that others are excited by the presented research and encourage the writer to develop stronger arguments and deeper analysis. The review process has also helped me improve my communication and ability to see problems from others’ perspectives.
Reading reviews of one’s own work can bring about quite mixed reactions depending on the harshness of the criticism. One valuable lesson that I have learned is to take all comments as an opportunity to make your work better, no matter the harshness. As a scientist, no matter the degree of rigor of your initial effort or the time spent preparing the initially submitted manuscript, there will always be room to grow. Therefore, a humble attitude with perseverance is important to facilitate that growth, while being cognizant of what comments represent misunderstandings that require clarification and which comments will add the most value.
—Sarah Fay Buckland
Receiving reviews on your own work is an excellent reminder of the impact that a high-quality review can make. Some examples of these impacts include reviewers' suggestions to perform analyses that I would not have thought to do on my own, or suggestions of how to improve the clarity and organization of the manuscript. These suggestions have significantly improved the quality of my papers and have served as motivation for my aim to be the best reviewer that I can.
I've learned to consider a much wider audience when writing my own papers. So many times I have assumed that my audience already knows a great deal about the subject of the paper, and that leads to my leaving out steps, or not defining terms, for instance. The peer-review process almost always includes one or more reviewers who are tangentially involved in the subject I'm writing about, and they can deliver some of the best insights into making the paper more accessible. I also have learned to keep in mind the standard of: "someone should be able to read your paper and have all the information they need to replicate your work." I've become eager to get comments where people point out where key steps are missing from the narrative, or when it becomes clear that someone tried to reproduce what I was doing for their own satisfaction, and can ask detailed questions to help them do so.
Similar to my most important takeaway for writing reviews, the clarity of message and story in my own papers is critical. It's always obvious when a reviewer 'gets it', and when they don't, it means I've missed on the messaging.
Everyone comes to the table with their own unique perspective of a manuscript, myself (as an author) included. It is important to respect everyone's opinions and correspond with one another in the review process with a common goal: publish high-quality, innovative science. You may not always agree with a review of your paper, but at times reviewers have unique perspectives and recommendations that actually improve your manuscript. Consider what reviewers have to say, but also own your work and work with reviewers to arrive at a polished manuscript.
Constructive reviews comments can point out potential weaknesses in my research methodology, or theoretical underpinnings, prompting me to refine and strengthen my work. I value comments from reviewers greatly.
Reviewers can point out the important issues ignored by me. As an author, I am often absorbed in my research topics and oblivious of important issues or even mistakes.
To me, a key observation was that one should keep in mind that readers may come from very different backgrounds. Often, points and arguments that seemed completely clear to me were misunderstood by reviewers, and thinking more carefully about the phrasing and context of individual statements has certainly helped to improve those papers.
“How can I be constructive?” Constructive feedback is criticism with advice built in. This is better than just criticism alone and often better than only positive feedback because it provides a clear means for improvement. Every researcher dislikes highly critical feedback. Part of disliking this is because the feedback is written such that you know the reviewer does not like something, but there is no roadmap to address it. Without some advice for a direction forward, this critical feedback (while sometimes warranted) can feel like an emotional attack, especially to an early career researcher. My point is, if you are reviewing a paper that you don’t have a good feeling about, then try to identify exactly what you think is incorrect and offer a path forward on how you might fix it. It is a skill that takes time to develop and one I will continue to work on for the rest of my career.
I think about distilling the central message(s) of the paper and how to communicate them in the most concise, clear way — both with regards to figures and text. Once the central message(s) are clear, I put my personal scientific interests/biases aside and think about whether the results are sufficiently novel to constitute a publication. Another point I think about is the subjectivity of language and how to keep the style of the paper as logical and unambiguous as possible. I believe that when the results are well-understood by the authors they should be understandable at various levels of complexity by various members of the paper’s audience. There should be a takeaway message that’s clear from the paper both to experts in the field and those that read the paper with less background expertise.
There are several important principles to follow when writing a review. However, for me, among the most important is to examine the methodological soundness of the research, as even if the results appear highly consequential and significant if the methods are not scientifically sound or clear, the results are of little to no scientific value. Of high, but secondary importance is the clarity of communication. If the idea of the paper is not well communicated, it loses its value to the audience. It is also important for me, as a reviewer to bear in mind my communication to the authors in my feedback. In communicating the results of my reviews, it is important to provide detailed and clear explanations so the authors can know exactly how to improve their paper. While providing critiques, it is also important to highlight the strengths of the paper, to encourage scientists that the work they do is valuable.
—Sarah Fay Buckland
Usually, as a reviewer, I go through the submitted manuscripts just after accepting the review invitation, marking obvious shortcoming or mistakes, and bear in mind the results shown in the manuscripts. Then, I think over the results, and benefit much from thinking, since research is thinking to a great extent.
The authors have invested a lot of their time and energy into writing every manuscript. As tempting as it may be to be super-critical and tear everything down, you have to remember that sincere investment. Comment on good points as well as the bad. Treat it as an opportunity to share ideas about improving scientific writing and methods, without being condescending or patronizing.
When writing a review, it's crucial to bear in mind is to offer comments that are constructive and applicable for the author, and to maintain a respectful tone, even when differing from the author's views.
My philosophy is to always offer criticism constructively. While there might be critical issues with a manuscript, it is almost always possible to frame the comments in a positive light.
The most important thing to keep in mind while writing a review is to come into the review with 0 prior knowledge of the presented results in the paper. One goal of the reviewer is to evaluate the content as someone who is unfamiliar with the presented work. This enhances the paper's accessibility to scientists who are new to the content presented and the paper has all the supporting information it needs for readers to interpret the conclusions and results presented.
It is important to be respectful to the authors, even if you think that their paper is seriously confused. Also, just as a submitted paper needs to give a clear message, so should a review -- then the editor and the authors are more likely to take notice of it. But of course the clarity and detail in the review has to be balanced against time constraints.
The most important thing, I think, is the balance between the present results and those needed to be studied in the future.
As a reviewer, rejecting a paper doesn't usually mean that the idea isn't worthy of publication or a complete waste of effort. It's often a suggestion that it just may take a while to fully address the concerns listed. Instead of crushing everyone under review deadlines every month or two, a rejection often suggests more time should be taken to step back and really think through how to make improvements. I've also learned that the more positive comments I can make in addition to my negative ones, the more receptive the authors tend to be about addressing the negative comments.
I find that reading a paper from the standpoint of a reviewer allows me to develop a deeper understanding of the study than I would otherwise as a casual reader. Being in the reviewer role necessitates delving into the body of literature surrounding the given paper and assessing how the study contributes to the field. Sometimes the early iterations of submitted papers are written in the voice of scientists that have been fully immersed in a given problem for extensive amounts of time. It’s an important role to offer perspective on communicating niche knowledge into a work that will be enlightening to a wider audience; this has translated into helping me write papers and communicating my own results to a broader audience.
Volunteering for completing peer reviews has many benefits. In addition to the professional benefits of listing the review process on career documents such as my CV, one main benefit is learning cutting-edge or emerging research directions from other peers in my field of study – even before they are ‘hot-off-the-press’. Reading through these submissions has stimulated further creativity to feedback on refining and developing novel research ideas applied in my own context. Completing multiple reviews over time also benefits my own critical analysis of my own draft papers. Utilizing some of the criteria for reviewing enables me to look back at my own draft papers with fresh eyes and strengthen the communication and approaches used.
—Sarah Fay Buckland
Performing reviews is a great way to stay up-to-date with the cutting edge research that is submitted to AMS journals. Not only do I routinely learn about new findings, but I also learn about new analysis techniques and ways to visualize data. These aspects help make me a better scientist in the process.
I enjoy the opportunities to read the latest research work submitted to the journals. Through reading insightful comments from other reviewers and responses from authors, I also learn to improve my skills in writing papers. We receive helpful comments on our papers from peer reviewers, so volunteering to review papers for others is kind of a way to reciprocate the help.
It sounds a bit silly, but I think I have learned to write better. There is a certain art to crafting a manuscript, but there is another skillset that as students we are not often trained in and that is to create thoughtful, constructive, and positive feedback for authors. Not only do reviewers have to carefully explain technical scientific concepts that are in question, but they have to do it in a way that is truly HELPFUL to the authors, and not destructive, demeaning, or unhelpful. It takes time to develop those skills too, and I am sorry to the authors who had to endure some of my first reviews that were likely not very kind because I didn't know what I was doing at the time.
In addition to getting to see interesting interesting research ahead of time, I believe that doing reviews has also helped to become better at writing papers myself.
Doing reviews helps me expand my breadth of knowledge by critically evaluating new research areas and learning about unique methods used to solve challenging research questions.
I benefit from doing reviews in that doing them properly forces me to keep up to date with the literature in my field. I must have a solid grasp of what past work says about a particular problem in order to determine how the current submission fits into the body of work. In that way, writing reviews keeps me on my toes with everything happening in my field.
I try to strategically select reviews that are papers I want to read anyways, because it can be challenging to find the time to read papers closely but a review acts as an additional incentive to do so.
For one, it is a great way for me to stay connected to the most recent literature and advances in meteorology. Also, good manuscripts challenge me in the way that I communicate scientific results. Seeing how other people write and organize a scientific story give me ideas about how to improve my own communication skills.
[By reviewing, I can ] Keep abreast of the latest development in climate research, develop critical thinking skills essential to performing research, and apply to my own work.
[Reviewing] helps me keep up with the current literature. The literature is constantly growing and keeping up with the latest science is challenging. Being a reviewer incentivises me reading papers and keeping up to date. [Reviewing also] helps me learn the new and exciting research my peers are conducting. There is a lot of exciting research going on within the community. Getting to learn about this research while reviewing the paper is a great benefit.
After doing various reviews, as an author, I could roughly imagine how reviewers might question the motivation, data, results and conclusions in my manuscripts, from the very beginning drafts to the versions to be submitted. This helps me improve the manuscript, and may let reviewers of my own submissions focus on the important issues ignored by me.
You often learn a substantial amount about the topic of the paper, both from the paper itself, but also from the references cited. Even if the paper is on a topic which you are actively researching, the authors perspective of the topic and how it has developed over time may often be different to your own and your own thinking may be changed. If the paper is more at the margins of your own research, reviewing the paper is often a useful catch-up exercise and improves your general knowledge of the subject. That's a good thing in my view.
I’ve learned how important peer review is for making science what it is. After completing the process several times, I have become confident in it. It is a way for several independent parts of the community to weigh whether there is enough evidence presented to support a claim, and thus the paper is publishable. It prevents publication of anything from pure fiction to good, but only half-supported arguments. From completing peer review, scientists become very good at knowing how to support their own claims and detecting whether another researcher’s claim is not supported. The process is not perfect. There is only a small sample of the community (2-4 people) reviewing a paper which allows room for error. As a result, we often do see papers that have mistakes or that we feel did not provide enough evidence for a claim. However, the community corrects for this via comments on published papers and follow-up papers in reply to others. All of this a healthy part of the scientific process, for which peer review plays the central role.
I have learned that no matter what stage of career one has reached, there is always value to have colleagues to review, as we all have different experiences and approaches. The peer-review process acts as a safeguard and also enriches the final product of the research that the public consumes.
—Sarah Fay Buckland
Other researchers generally want you to succeed. I have received very negative reviews, but these are rare. I receive constructive feedback far more often, which is part of what I love about being a scientist within the Earth science community. I’ve learned that the best review process is one that pushes you to make your manuscript better than when it was submitted. As a graduate student, I used to hope for all very positive reviews in my papers, but I am starting to think that the best case scenario is to have reviewers that will read my work thoroughly and push me to make it better. I have had that several times now and wish I knew the reviewer’s identity so I can thank them. I hope other researchers have received as much encouraging feedback as I have. I at least hope to be that reviewer for others.