Top Tips and Takeaways: Peer Review with SAGE Publishing!

In the Hive, we have the pleasure of working with SAGE Publishing. Each year, the Scholars contribute to their blog and have the opportunity to visit their offices and attend some of their training sessions (pre-Covid, at least)!

We asked SAGE if they would visit Sussex to speak with Doctoral Researchers about peer review: a core part of academic publishing where academics play a pivotal role in assessing an article submitted for publication. For Doctoral Researchers, this can be a mystical and daunting process, but getting involved with peer review has many benefits for academics early in their careers. It can benefit your own writing, give greater insight into the publishing process, and allow you to see different papers that are accepted or rejected from key journals in your field.

One of the benefits of the pandemic is the creative ways that we have used technology to bring people together form afar. This has made it possible for us to invite speakers from different locations to ‘visit’ Sussex and speak to our Doctoral Researchers!

Last week, Lisa Johnstone, Senior Commissioning Editor at SAGE Publishing, spoke to Doctoral Researchers about peer review and answered our questions about the process. Here, we include some of the main takeaways and top tips to get started with peer review and how to write a good review.

Lisa Johnstone giving an overview of the types of peer review

Getting Started

  • Create an account on a specific journal’s peer review site. Use strong and descriptive keywords to illustrate your research experience, use your University e-mail address and highlight your degree and affiliation(s). Be sure to specify your ORCID-ID, which can help build your research profile.
  • Connect directly with editors. You can e-mail editors directly, or connect at conferences or other events, you can also create a Publons account, which also has the benefit of providing additional training on conducting peer review.
  • Speak to more senior colleagues. Helping others with their reviews can be a great way of getting started as you can obtain feedback from your colleagues, which you won’t normally receive from editors.

When to accept or decline to review

  • Make sure you are aware of what peer review model you will be working under when accepting or declining a review. Most journals use double blind peer review, where names of authors and reviewers are hidden. Some journals are now leaning towards an open review process, where authors’ and reviewers’ names are made available, sometimes the review will be published alongside the article.
  • Peer review ethics! If the journal uses a double blind model and you can identify the author(s), you must decline the review!
  • Don’t accept if you feel you don’t have the expertise, if you feel that you are too early on in your career (or if you have changed fields), if you don’t have time, or if there is something that prevents you from providing an impartial review e.g., you know the author or may benefit from the paper being published.
  • If you don’t know the specific methodology or aren’t familiar with the analyses, but you are confident in your topic knowledge, write the review in a timely manner and highlight to the editor that they may need a third reviewer to address the points that you weren’t able to.
  • You can always speak to editors to find out if they would like specific questions addressed, and feel free to contact the editor to ask questions about your review. More communication is always better and will help you write a better quality review.

Writing a good review

Research Done Well

How to identify ‘research done well’?

  • A paper should make an original contribution to the field.
  • Authors should first give a pointed review of the literature. If there is literature you are aware of that would provide necessary context, mention this in your review.
  • Make sure that ethical approval was obtained and pay due attention to ethical considerations, such as informed consent, and anonymisation.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of data manipulation or plagiarism.
  • Scrutinise the study design and the appropriateness of the materials and methods. They should be reasonably consistent with other studies in the field and/or be appropriate to address the research questions.
  • The methods should also be detailed enough to ensure reproducibility.
  • The methods of analysis should also be suitable to address the research questions and the conclusions should follow logically from the results and be free of unsupported generalisations.

Study Presentation

Elements of writing and structure: You can make general comments on things like academic writing style, cohesiveness and clarity. However, you are not expected to ‘copy-edit’! If there are enough issues to make the paper difficult to read, you can make a general comment about this in your review.

Bias-free and inclusive research: You can also make general comments on language use. For instance, authors should use inclusive, bias-free language and be sensitive to labels relating to protected characteristics. The language needs to be appropriate for a global audience. However, bias-free research goes beyond language, and extends to the assumptions made by the research and the intentions and design of the study, which may be implicitly apparent in the paper. Any concerns should be flagged in the review.

Remember, you can ask for more details from the author in your review.

Structuring your review

To make a review more manageable, break it down into sections that match the structure of the paper, this will help you to provide thorough feedback to authors. Try to avoid overly lengthy reviews but ensure that the feedback is sufficient. Think about the types of feedback you would like to receive on your own paper, and remember to be kind and constructive!

Thank you slide from the SAGE Publishing peer review webinar

More peer review resources can be found on the SAGE reviewer gateway!

You can also find the slides from the peer review webinar, along with a recording of a panel of peer review specialists and Journal Editors on the SAGE Publishing website. The webinar for Sussex students will be made available via the Doctoral School very soon.

Thank you to everyone who came along and for a great Q&A session!

— The Hive Scholars

Don’t forget to follow us for regular updates: @sussexreshive on Twitter or Instagram or, if you wish to contribute to our blog, email us at


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