How to review a paper

This summer Chengcheng Kang reviewed three papers for some top conferences in her field. It was a daunting process at first, but she found practice makes perfect and is sharing her insights in this week’s PhD Life post…

People may think the first two years of your PhD is a bit early to begin reviewing papers, but I found it a very valuable thing. The first time, a senior PhD student asked me for a friendly review for his paper. I was very careful and so afraid in this review that I didn’t make many useful points. Reviewing is not an intense job, it’s more like a discussion and learning process. We came from different backgrounds and had different perspectives when looking at things which can actually be useful when providing feedback, so don’t be scared if you get a chance to review a paper. I really appreciate the other PhD student asking me to do this, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the courage to accept formal reviews for some top conferences.

I just finished my second year annual review when I got the first request to review a short paper. It was an exciting moment when clicking the button to confirm it. But this time I have to admit that I didn’t do so well. I never formally trained for reviewing or commenting on papers. My approach was to read the full paper many times, highlight all the key points, summarise the paper and then give some advice. However, I found my second attempt to be much more successful. This time when I got another two papers to review I paused, thought, searched and asked. I have found the shortcut to knowing something well is to ask. Luckily there was a renowned professor who came for a seminar and after the lunch break, I put up my hand asked him how to best review a paper. His advice was that first, you see whether it is making contributions to the field. Second, ask if you have learnt something from the paper (if both yes then give the mark around 4 out of 5). Third, he recommended following the instructions in this guide: reviewing a manuscript for publication. Fourth, write down the parts we are not familiar with. And finally, practice a lot. The guide by Allen S Lee is super beneficial as a guidance to provide valuable reviews. At first, we may not be able to find all the weaknesses of the paper but this is okay. It’s simply something that requires practice. I encourage all PhD students to start practicing reviewing when they get the chance.

Reviewing is an essential part of our academic journeys to help us learn new things. There are lots of benefits to reviewing, so follow the guidelines and practice!


When did you review your first paper? What advice would you provide for a first-time reviewer? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at or leave a comment below.


Chengcheng Kang is a PhD candidate from Beijing, China in Group of Information System Management at the Warwick Business School. You may contact her on Twitter at @cckkcc29


Image: paper-font-old-antique-write-623167 /nile / CC0 1.0

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