As someone who prior to this year had never peer-reviewed a journal article before, I am now up to my fifth review and no longer feel quite so daunted. This entry in the Australian Academy of Science’s Early Days Newsletter has some helpful pointers.
Generally speaking I follow its advice – I first summarise the article so the author can see I’ve understood its content, I then list any major points/suggestions to improve the article and then expand on those in the next section. I then take a line-by-line edit of any remaining issues that require corrections.
I’m sure I’m not the first early career scientist to feel thoroughly unprepared the first time an editor request you review an article for a journal. As part of my Honours year we critically reviewed several papers that were outside our respective fields of interest, which has helped me prepare a bit. I wonder how many PhD students receive any training on peer-review?
See also the Research Whisperer for some further tips on being ‘Professionally Judgemental’.