Peer review must often seem like a thankless task, but without it The BMJ could not survive. We depend on our bank of reviewers to help us assess the quality and usefulness of the 8000+ manuscripts we receive each year. We ask reviewers to help us prioritise the manuscripts that we receive, bearing in mind that The BMJ aims to publish original, important, and reliable articles that will help our readers around the world - who are mainly doctors - to make better decisions about practice, policy, education, and research.
For the best reviews (those that constructively critique the article and help editors assess its importance and originality) we offer, in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, up to 3 AMA PRA Category 1 Continuing Medical Education (CME) points.
The BMJ is committed to furthering partnerships between doctors and patients. In addition to peer review, we also ask patient reviewers for their opinion on the importance and relevance of selected manuscripts.
The BMJ has fully open peer review for all articles that undergo review. In addition, accepted research and analysis papers will usually have their prepublication history posted alongside them on bmj.com. This prepublication history generally comprises all previous versions of the manuscript, the study protocol (mandatory for all clinical trials and encouraged for all other studies at The BMJ), the report from the manuscript committee meeting, the reviewers’ comments, and the authors’ responses to all the comments from reviewers and editors (read more in this editorial). The prepublication history will be posted around the same time the paper is published, but at busy times of the year there may be delays. If you cannot locate the prepublication history for a particular paper, please contact email@example.com.
For rejected research papers, we expect that authors will keep the identity and comments of peer reviewers confidential. They may, however, share the peer review comments (though not peer reviewer names) in confidence with other journals. Authors should contact the editor who handled their paper if they have any complaints about the peer review process or the behaviour of the peer reviewers. Open peer review does not mean, however, that authors should feel able to contact reviewers directly to discuss their reports; all queries should still be directed through the editorial office.
We ask reviewers to sign their reports and declare any competing interests on any manuscripts we send them. Reviewers for The BMJ agree to have their signed comments posted if a paper is published, but not otherwise. As a reviewer you will be advising the editors, who make the final decision (aided by an editorial committee for all research articles and most analysis articles). We will let you know our decision. Authors - and readers too, if the paper is accepted and published - will see your signed report, so please do not make any comments that you are not prepared to stand by publicly. Even if we do not accept an article we would like to pass on constructive comments that might help the author to improve it.
Authors can now nominate other BMJ Journals that they would like their manuscript to go to automatically if it is rejected by the first journal. The system also passes on editors' comments and peer reviewers' reports relating to that manuscript, to facilitate the review process at the next BMJ Journal. This means that your review might be read by other editors within BMJ (the publishing group) in due course.
We do not restrict the use you make of your review once the manuscript has been published. However, an author’s manuscript remains confidential until it is published, and you must not disclose any information about an unpublished manuscript, including your review of it. Please note that if the article is not published you may refer to The BMJ and the fact that you have reviewed an article for it. However, you may not post any details of the article which was reviewed, or any part of the review that would breach the confidentiality under which the article was provided to you for review.
We provide a thank-you email once your review is complete, and a free one-year online subscription to bmj.com. We are not able to provide any additional documentation regarding your review.
We need a constant supply of new peer reviewers. Might you be one? If you would like to volunteer, please register at our online editorial office. This process will automatically add your name and contact details to our database of reviewers, and will then return you to the editorial office’s homepage. Please go then to the reviewer area on that page and click on “Edit expertise terms” to tell us your areas of interest. This will let us know which types of article you would like to review.
We are constantly trying to find ways of improving our peer review system and have an ongoing programme of editorial research. For example, The BMJ's editors and researchers have conducted randomised controlled trials on open peer review and on peer review training. We hope that The BMJ's reviewers will also be committed to improving peer review. If you would like to opt out of involvement in such research please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.
Once signed up as a reviewer, you will become part of our reviewer database. If we need your help with appraising a manuscript we will email you and ask you to accept or reject the reviewing invitation at our online editorial office.
If you feel qualified to review a particular manuscript, you should agree to review only if you are able to return a review within the proposed or mutually agreed time-frame. If you cannot review, it is helpful to make suggestions for alternative reviewers if relevant, based on their expertise and without any influence of personal considerations or any intention of the manuscript receiving a specific outcome.
Unpublished manuscripts are confidential and you must not disclose their contents to anyone except a professional colleague whose input you request as part of your review process. If you do choose to discuss the manuscript and/or your review with a professional colleague you are responsible for ensuring that they are made fully aware of the confidential nature of the discussion and that they must not disclose any information about the manuscript until the article is published. The identity of any co-reviewer and any potential conflicting or competing interests they may have must be disclosed when submitting your review.
If you would like to pass it on to someone else to review or suggest alternatives please email email@example.com first.
The BMJ's peer reviewers do not have to fill in standard appraisal forms. But we do ask all reviewers to consider this general guidance:
When you provide your review via our online editorial office we will ask you to declare any competing interest that might relate to the article. Details of our competing interest policy for reviewers can be found in the section below.
Before writing your review you may find it helpful to browse our resources for authors, advice on The BMJ's article types, and our transparency policy. Patients are also asked to review our articles from the patient perspective and it may be helpful to also see their training materials.
Please give detailed and constructive comments (with references, whenever possible) that will both help the editors to make a decision on the article and the authors to improve it.
• Methods — adequately described? Main outcome measure clear? Is the study fully reported in line with the appropriate reporting statement or checklist (these are all collected and regularly updated at http://www.equator-network.org/)? Was the study ethical (this may go beyond simply whether the study was approved by an ethics committee or IRB)?
• Results — answer the research question? Credible? Well presented?
• Interpretation and conclusions — warranted by and sufficiently derived from/focused on the data? Discussed in the light of previous evidence? Message clear?
• References — up to date and relevant? Any glaring omissions?
• Abstract/summary/key messages/what this paper adds — reflect accurately what the paper says?
• Documents in the supplemental files eg checklists for reporting statements eg CONSORT, PRISMA, and STROBE (see http://www.equator-network.org for other examples and for extensions to existing statements); and the protocol for an RCT. Do these properly match what is in the manuscript? Do they contain information that should be better reported in the manuscript, or raise questions about the work?
Not all of these points will be relevant for non-research articles. Please use your discretion about the above list when reporting on other types of article. Some types of article need more specific appraisal, and you may find it useful to look at our checklists.
We welcome feedback from our reviewers. If you have any comment you want to make, either on a manuscript you have reviewed and our decision on it or on our review process in general, we would be pleased to hear from you.
This guidance corresponds to competing interests for reviewers. Please see here for guidance for authors.
Since July 2010, The BMJ, along with other journals who are members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, has been asking authors to use a revised version of its unified disclosure form (see BMJ 2010;341:c3239).
The unified form is intended to make life easier for authors, in that the same form can be completed for several journals, saving authors the trouble of having to provide slightly different information for different journals. Each journal, will, however, integrate the form into its processes in different ways.
A competing interest exists when professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as patients' welfare or the validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain or personal rivalry). It may arise for the reviewers of an article in The BMJ when they have a financial interest that may influence - probably without their knowing - their interpretation of an article.
We, the editors of The BMJ, believe that to make the best decision on how to deal with a paper we should know about any such competing interests that reviewers may have. We are not aiming at eradicating competing interests - they are almost inevitable. We will not reject opinions simply because you have a competing interest, but we would like to know about it.
We used to ask authors and reviewers about any competing interests, but we have decided to restrict our request to financial interests. This is largely a tactical move. We hope that it will increase the number of people who disclose competing interests. Our experience, supported by some research data, was that people often did not disclose them.
Please answer the following questions
Have you in the past five years accepted the following from an organisation that may in any way gain or lose financially from the publication of this paper:
• Reimbursement for attending a symposium?
• A fee for speaking?
• A fee for organising education?
• Funds for research?
• Funds for a member of staff?
• Fees for consulting?
• Have you in the past five years been employed by an organisation that may in any way gain or lose financially from the publication of this paper?
• Do you hold any stocks or shares in an organisation that may in any way gain or lose financially from the publication of this paper?
• Have you acted as an expert witness on the subject of your study, review, editorial, or letter?
• Do you have any other competing financial interests? If so, please specify.
We are restricting ourselves to asking directly about competing financial interests, but you might want to disclose another sort of competing interest that would embarrass you if it became generally known after publication. The following list gives some examples.
• A close relationship with, or a strong antipathy to, a person whose interests may be affected by publication of the reviewed paper.
• An academic link or rivalry with somebody whose interests may be affected by publication of the paper.
• Membership of a political party or special interest group whose interests may be affected by publication of the paper.
• A deep personal or religious conviction that may have affected what you wrote and that readers should be aware of when reading the paper.
If you want to declare such a competing interest then please add it to your statement.
To learn more about the thinking that has led to this policy please read the editorial Beyond conflict of interest.
One aspect of transparency that relates very directly to reviewers is the statement of provenance, which mentions whether a published article has been reviewed.
Who had the idea for the article, and was the article externally peer reviewed? At the end of every accepted editorial, research article, clinical review, practice article, analysis article, feature, and head-to-head article The BMJ will add a statement explaining the article's provenance. The options are:
• Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed
• Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed
• Commissioned; externally peer reviewed
• Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed
• Commissioned, based on an idea from the author; externally peer reviewed
• Commissioned, based on an idea from the author; not externally peer reviewed
The BMJ transparency policy combines many separate editorial policies. Please refer to these pages to find advice on what to do if you are concerned about the ethics aspects of a manuscript we have asked you to review or if you suspect plagiarism, duplicate publication, or scientific fraud and misconduct.