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Understanding the peer review process

The peer review process is used by most journals as part of their manuscript screening process. Most often, students and early career researchers go through the publication process without understanding what peer review exactly is. Peer review refers to the evaluation and assessment of research by experts in a particular field of study. It is mainly considered as an expert advice system that helps journal editors decide whether a manuscript is worthy of publication.

How did peer review originate?

Earlier, manuscripts submitted to journals were screened by journal editors. However, with the increase in specialized disciplines and number of papers, there was a need to involve subject-area experts in manuscript screening before making a final decision. Authors should remember that peer reviewers only critically evaluate the quality of research and recommend changes based on their understanding. The final decision to accept or reject a manuscript rests with the journal editor.

What are the different types of peer review?

Different journals adopt different types of peer review – single blind, double blind, or open peer review, or post-publication peer review – to evaluate research quality. Irrespective of the method followed, the primary aim of peer review is to validate research and ensure that published science has a global impact.

How to deal with peer review

Peer review comments can vary – from requests for minor revisions or language checks to major revisions including performing additional experiments. Typically, journals accept papers only after all reviewers’ comments are addressed. Therefore, authors must follow certain guidelines while responding to peer reviewers' comments such as responding precisely, politely, and with evidence, even when they disagree with the reviewers’ comments.

What are the problems of the peer review system?

Some of the problems of the peer review system are delay in decisions, reviewers’ bias, plagiarism, and conflicts of interest. Additionally, although peer review does not involve monetary transactions, there are many unseen costs involved, mainly related time spent by reviewers and journal editors. Also many academicians have mixed views about whether peer review should be provided free of cost. 

Overall, the peer review process is intended to serve a gate keeping function and the ultimate objective of peer review is to ensure a high quality of published science.

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