What is peer review - The basics and guidelines for authors

What is peer review - The basics and guidelines for authors

What is peer review and how did it originate?

Many students and early career researchers often wonder what peer review exactly is. In the simplest terms, it means evaluation and assessment of research by fellow experts in a particular field of study. The peer review system has been considered as the keystone of scientific publishing for centuries and most reputed journals use peer review as they believe it assures quality control in science publication.

Although some form of prepublication review was always present from the time scientific journals were published, the peer review process of today has evolved over time. Earlier, decisions about accepting or rejecting a paper were usually exclusively made by journal editors.

In the early 20th century, however, science started becoming more and more specialized as researchers explored niche scientific fields. Hence, editors found it difficult to decide on their own what was worth publishing. Moreover, the number of scientists increased massively as did the number of papers written due to the growing emphasis on publication in decisions about jobs, tenure, grants, etc. This increased pressure for a system such as peer review. 

What is the peer review’s role in research?

Peer review increases the credibility and reputation of research as it allows subject field experts to look closely at new research. Since this process helps journal editors in deciding whether a manuscript is publication worthy, it is also an expert advice system.

To understand peer review, one must understand the editorial decision-making at journals. Peer reviewers do not decide whether to accept or reject papers; they can only recommend a decision. At peer-reviewed journals, decision-making authority rests solely with journal editors or the journal’s editorial board.

What are the different types of peer review?

Different journals follow different types of peer review - such as single blind, double blind, open peer review - based on their requirements. More recently, some journals have begun experimenting with post-publication peer review as a means of weeding out bad science. Although the ways of reviewing research are different, the intention of following this system is validating research and ensuring that published science has a global impact.

How to deal with peer review?

You may know that getting a manuscript published is rarely a one-step process. Once a paper is submitted to a journal with an appropriate cover letter, authors usually have to wait for weeks to get a response from the journal. It is rare for papers to get accepted as they are without any edits; most papers have to go through multiple rounds of revisions based on the comments of reviewers before the manuscript can reach the publication.

Peer reviewers can suggest rework ranging from minor changes such as language editing to major changes such as adding more experiments. Since the journal accepts the paper only when all the comments are addressed, it is essential that authors keep in mind some guidelines while responding to peer reviewer comments such as responding precisely and politely.

It is not necessary for authors to agree with every change suggested by the reviewer(s), but they should justify any differences in opinion with evidence. While doing this, authors can take the help of a few tips on submitting the revised manuscript so the paper reaches the print version sooner.   

What are the problems of the peer review system?

Despite the many merits of peer review, the system is ridden with problems such as delay in decisions, reviewers’ bias, plagiarism, personal or professional jealousy, etc.

Additionally, peer review has many unseen costs even though there are usually no monetary transactions involved in the process. The main costs are related to the time devoted by the peer reviewers in reviewing articles and the time spent by the journal editors in arranging for peer reviewers.

Reviewers usually do not receive any remuneration for their work, and hence academicians are divided over whether peer review is a thankless job or a duty to the academic community

The ultimate objective of this system is to ensure a high quality of published science. Thus, authors should realize the pivotal role peer review plays and look at peer review as an excellent opportunity to improve the quality of their manuscript.

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