Peer review is often described as the ‘gold standard’ for evaluating scientific papers. Done well, the review process improves manuscripts and acts as a quality control mechanism to maintain the integrity of the literature. For this reason, all Reviews, Perspective articles and Consensus Statements published in Nature Reviews Nephrology undergo peer review. We ask reviewers to provide constructive feedback, focusing on the balance and scientific accuracy of the articles as well as whether the discussion is appropriately referenced and provides a useful, timely and insightful addition to the literature. The most useful peer-review reports — for authors and editors — are constructive, unbiased and contain specific suggestions for improvements based on sound scientific reasoning. We therefore agree with the concept of “supportive review” recently described by the Canadian Journal of Kidney Health and Disease, which emphasizes the importance of “constructive kindness”, positive feedback and respectful treatment of authors in addition to scientific rigour.1

The most useful peer-review reports … are constructive, unbiased and contain specific suggestions for improvements

Although now widely considered to be an essential part of the publication process, external peer review is a fairly new development in the history of scientific publishing. Nature was founded in 1869 but did not adopt systematic peer review until 1973, before which publication decisions were often based solely on the opinions of the editors and sometimes on the recommendations of prominent scientists2. The use of peer review has arguably made scientific publishing fairer and more inclusive. However, women and researchers from emerging regions are still under-represented among reviewers3. Nature Reviews Nephrology is a global journal and the input of a diverse pool of reviewers is important to ensure that our processes are inclusive and that differing viewpoints are represented. We aim to increase diversity by actively considering gender and geography when identifying reviewers for submitted articles. We also ask those who decline our invitations to consider members of under-represented communities when suggesting alternative reviewers.

Research suggests that a small proportion of researchers provide the majority of peer-review reports. A 2016 study estimated that 20% of researchers contribute up to 94% of reviews in biomedical sciences4. We are conscious of the inequalities and biases that can arise from relying on a small pool of reviewers, both as a result of lack of inclusion and representation of the wider scientific community and as a result of overburdening individual researchers. We therefore strive to engage new reviewers. In 2020, 43% of reviewers of our published articles were new to the journal.

We also recognize the importance of early career researchers (ECRs) to the future of scientific endeavours and the need to ensure that they receive training in key skills such as peer review. To facilitate such training, the Nature Reviews journals encourage invited reviewers to involve ECRs in the peer-review process. This approach enables reviewers to mentor their junior colleagues, and the resulting reports are considered to be co-reviews. Since we began this initiative in March 2020, 50% of articles reviewed for Nature Reviews Nephrology have had ECR involvement, and feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Springer Nature also provides training resources for reviewers, including a free online Nature Masterclass on peer review.

Reviewing a paper requires considerable time and expertise and provides an important service that contributes to the advancement of science. However, the efforts of reviewers are often not recognized. Since January 2020, we have given reviewers, including ECRs, the option of being acknowledged on the articles they have reviewed. All reviewers can also download a certificate detailing their peer-review activity and have this activity credited on their ORCID profiles. These initiatives are voluntary and we do not disclose the names of reviewers who prefer to remain anonymous.

At Nature Reviews Nephrology, we appreciate the valuable contribution of reviewers to the success of the journal. We are committed to ensuring a fair, constructive, inclusive and rigorous peer-review process that helps authors improve the quality of their articles.