Peer review process
What is peer review?
Reviewers play a central role in scholarly publishing. Peer review helps validate research, establish a method by which it can be evaluated, and increase networking possibilities within research communities. Despite criticisms, peer review is still the only widely accepted method for research validation.
Types of peer review
The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is the most common type by far.
- Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions – the reviewers will not be influenced by the authors.
- Authors may be concerned that reviewers in their field could delay publication, giving the reviewers a chance to publish first.
- Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the authors’ work.
Both the reviewer and the author are anonymous.
- Author anonymity prevents any reviewer bias, for example based on an author's country of origin or previous controversial work.
- Articles written by prestigious or renowned authors are considered on the basis of the content of their papers, rather than their reputation.
- Reviewers can often identify the author through their writing style, subject matter or self-citation.
Reviewer and author are known to each other.
- Some believe this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from following their own agenda, and encourage open, honest reviewing.
- Others see open review as a less honest process, in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism.
More transparent peer review
Reviewers play a vital role in academic publishing, yet their contributions are often hidden. Three Infokes journals now publish supplementary review files alongside the articles on ScienceDirect.
- Acknowledges the important role of reviewers
- Enriches published articles and improves the reading experience
The peer review process
The peer review process can be broadly summarized into 10 steps, although these steps can vary slightly between journals. Explore what’s involved, below.
Editor Feedback: “Reviewers should remember that they are representing the readers of the journal. Will the readers of this particular journal find this informative and useful?”
1. Submission of Paper
The corresponding or submitting author submits the paper to the journal. This is usually via an online system such as Scholar-One Manuscripts. Occasionally, journals may accept submissions by email.
2. Editorial Office Assessment
The journal checks the paper’s composition and arrangement against the journal’s Author Guidelines to make sure it includes the required sections and stylizations. The quality of the paper is not assessed at this point.
3. Appraisal by the Editor-in-Chief (EIC)
The EIC checks that the paper is appropriate for the journal and is sufficiently original and interesting. If not, the paper may be rejected without being reviewed any further.
4. EIC Assigns an Associate Editor (AE)
Some journals have Associate Editors who handle the peer review. If they do, they would be assigned at this stage.
5. Invitation to Reviewers
The handling editor sends invitations to individuals he or she believes would be appropriate reviewers. As responses are received, further invitations are issued, if necessary, until the required number of acceptances is obtained – commonly this is 2, but there is some variation between journals.
6. Response to Invitations
Potential reviewers consider the invitation against their own expertise, conflicts of interest and availability. They then accept or decline. If possible, when declining, they might also suggest alternative reviewers.
7. Review is Conducted
The reviewer sets time aside to read the paper several times. The first read is used to form an initial impression of the work. If major problems are found at this stage, the reviewer may feel comfortable rejecting the paper without further work. Otherwise, they will read the paper several more times, taking notes so as to build a detailed point-by-point review. The review is then submitted to the journal, with a recommendation to accept or reject it – or else with a request for revision (usually flagged as either major or minor) before it is reconsidered.
8. Journal Evaluates the Reviews
The handling editor considers all the returned reviews before making an overall decision. If the reviews differ widely, the editor may invite an additional reviewer so as to get an extra opinion before making a decision.
9. The Decision is Communicated
The editor sends a decision email to the author including any relevant reviewer comments. Whether the comments are anonymous or not will depend on the type of peer review that the journal operates.
10. Next Steps
An Editor's Perspective
Listen to a podcast from Roger Watson, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Advanced Nursing, as he discusses 'The peer review process'.
If accepted, the paper is sent to production. If the article is rejected or sent back for either major or minor revision, the handling editor should include constructive comments from the reviewers to help the author improve the article. At this point, reviewers should also be sent an email or letter letting them know the outcome of their review. If the paper was sent back for revision, the reviewers should expect to receive a new version, unless they have opted out of further participation. However, where only minor changes were requested this follow-up review might be done by the handling editor.