Peer review must often seem like a thankless task, but without it The BMJ could not survive. We depend on our 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.
Below is information about open peer review, advice about how to become a reviewer and how to write a good review, and our reviewer terms and conditions which are based on the Committee on Publication Ethics Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers which also provides further information on how to be objective and constructive in your review.
The BMJ has fully open peer review for all articles which means the names of reviewers are disclosed to the author of the paper. We ask reviewers to sign their reports and declare any competing interests on any manuscripts we send them.
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. The prepublication history will be posted at the same time the paper is published and you can find it under the ‘peer review’ tab of an article.
For rejected 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. Authors should not contact reviewers directly to discuss their reports; all queries should be directed through the editorial office.
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). Reviewers will be informed of decisions by email. If we do not accept an article we will still pass on reviewer comments to the authors.
You will remain the owner of the review you submit to us. It is your responsibility to ensure that you obtain the consent of any co-reviewer or other third party who may have contributed to your review. In submitting your review to The BMJ you are agreeing to licence your work to us so that we may use it for the purposes outlined below. If published, your review will be published under the same license as the article.
An author’s manuscript must remain confidential until it is published, and you must not disclose any information about an unpublished manuscript, including your review. Please note that if the article is not published you may refer to the journal which requested your review 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.
Authors are given the option of nominating other journals from BMJ to which they would like their manuscript transferred to if it is rejected by The BMJ. If the author of the manuscript you reviewed has taken up this option, your review will be passed on to the editor of the nominated journal along with the manuscript and you might be invited to review a revised version. If the article is accepted for publication in the other BMJ journal, your review may also be published (depending on the editorial policy of the journal in question). You will be contacted for your permission before this happens.
We provide a thank you email once your review is complete, and a free one-year online subscription to The BMJ. We are not able to provide any additional documentation regarding your review.
We are always looking for new peer reviewers. If you would like to volunteer, please register for an account at our online editorial office to be added to our reviewer database. When you have created an account, fill in details such as keywords and special interests to show up in our reviewer database searches.
We invite medical students to review manuscripts for BMJ Student. If you are a student or newly qualified doctor, please include the term “student” under special interests in the personal information area of your account.
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 email@example.com.
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 invitation. If you cannot review the manuscript and would like to suggest an alternative reviewer, please reply to the invitation email to let us know.
If you feel qualified to judge 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.
During the review process we ask you to declare any potentially conflicting or competing interests (which could be personal, financial, intellectual, professional, political or religious in nature) so that editors can assess these and factor them into their decisions. Please refer any major concerns over potentially competing interests to the editorial office before beginning your review. In addition, you should not agree to review a manuscript just to gain sight of it with no intention of submitting a review. For more information on conflicts of interest, please refer to the section further down this page.
Manuscripts submitted to journals are authors’ private, confidential property; reviewers should keep manuscripts and the information they contain strictly confidential. If you do choose to discuss the manuscript and/or your review with a professional colleague whose input you request as part of your review process, 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. Reviewers should not retain the manuscript for personal use and should destroy copies after submitting their review.
If you have concerns that misconduct occurred during either the research or the writing and submission of the manuscript, or you notice substantial similarity between the manuscript and a concurrent submission to another journal or a published article; please let the journal editor know.
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.
As a reviewer you must provide a fair, honest, and unbiased assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript. For example, be specific in your critique, and provide supporting evidence with appropriate references to substantiate general statements. Be professional and refrain from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libelous or derogatory personal comments. If the work is not clear because of missing analyses, the reviewer should comment and explain what additional analyses would clarify the work submitted. It is not the job of the reviewer to extend the work beyond its current scope.
Some types of articles need more specific appraisal, and you may find it useful to look at our checklists. Reviewers should consider for all articles:
Specifically for research articles:
We welcome feedback from our reviewers. If you have any comments you want to make, either on a manuscript you have reviewed and our decision on it or on our review process in general, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 their interpretation of an article.
We 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 do need 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.
Before submitting their review, reviewers are asked the following questions regarding conflicts of interest in relation to their review:
One aspect of transparency that relates directly to reviewers is the statement of provenance, which mentions whether a published article has been 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: