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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is thought to be the first journal to formalize the peer review process in 5 , however, it is important to note that peer review was initially introduced to help editors decide which manuscripts to publish in their journals, and at that time it did not serve to ensure the validity of the research 6.
It did not take long for the peer review process to evolve, and shortly thereafter papers were distributed to reviewers with the intent of authenticating the integrity of the research study before publication.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh adhered to the following peer review process, published in their Medical Essays and Observations in The report of their identity is not known to the author. Peer review in the systematized and institutionalized form has developed immensely since the Second World War, at least partly due to the large increase in scientific research during this period 7.
Peer review is now standard practice by most credible scientific journals, and is an essential part of determining the credibility and quality of work submitted. Thus, it encourages authors to strive to produce high quality research that will advance the field. Peer review also supports and maintains integrity and authenticity in the advancement of science. A scientific hypothesis or statement is generally not accepted by the academic community unless it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal 8.
Peer review is a well-established process which has been a formal part of scientific communication for over years. The peer review process begins when a scientist completes a research study and writes a manuscript that describes the purpose, experimental design, results, and conclusions of the study. The scientist then submits this paper to a suitable journal that specializes in a relevant research field, a step referred to as pre-submission. The editors of the journal will review the paper to ensure that the subject matter is in line with that of the journal, and that it fits with the editorial platform.
Very few papers pass this initial evaluation. If the journal editors feel the paper sufficiently meets these requirements and is written by a credible source, they will send the paper to accomplished researchers in the field for a formal peer review.
Peer reviewers are also known as referees this process is summarized in Figure 1. The role of the editor is to select the most appropriate manuscripts for the journal, and to implement and monitor the peer review process. Editors must ensure that peer reviews are conducted fairly, and in an effective and timely manner. They must also ensure that there are no conflicts of interest involved in the peer review process.
When a reviewer is provided with a paper, he or she reads it carefully and scrutinizes it to evaluate the validity of the science, the quality of the experimental design, and the appropriateness of the methods used. The reviewer also assesses the significance of the research, and judges whether the work will contribute to advancement in the field by evaluating the importance of the findings, and determining the originality of the research.
Additionally, reviewers identify any scientific errors and references that are missing or incorrect. Peer reviewers give recommendations to the editor regarding whether the paper should be accepted, rejected, or improved before publication in the journal. If the paper is accepted, as per suggestion by the peer reviewer, the paper goes into the production stage, where it is tweaked and formatted by the editors, and finally published in the scientific journal.
An overview of the review process is presented in Figure 1. Peer reviews are conducted by scientific experts with specialized knowledge on the content of the manuscript, as well as by scientists with a more general knowledge base. Peer reviewers can be anyone who has competence and expertise in the subject areas that the journal covers. Reviewers can range from young and up-and-coming researchers to old masters in the field.
Often, the young reviewers are the most responsive and deliver the best quality reviews, though this is not always the case.
On average, a reviewer will conduct approximately eight reviews per year, according to a study on peer review by the Publishing Research Consortium PRC 7. Journals will often have a pool of reviewers with diverse backgrounds to allow for many different perspectives. They will also keep a rather large reviewer bank, so that reviewers do not get burnt out, overwhelmed or time constrained from reviewing multiple articles simultaneously.
Referees are typically not paid to conduct peer reviews and the process takes considerable effort, so the question is raised as to what incentive referees have to review at all. Some feel an academic duty to perform reviews, and are of the mentality that if their peers are expected to review their papers, then they should review the work of their peers as well.
Reviewers may also have personal contacts with editors, and may want to assist as much as possible. Others review to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in their field, and reading new scientific papers is an effective way to do so. Some scientists use peer review as an opportunity to advance their own research as it stimulates new ideas and allows them to read about new experimental techniques.
Other reviewers are keen on building associations with prestigious journals and editors and becoming part of their community, as sometimes reviewers who show dedication to the journal are later hired as editors. Some scientists see peer review as a chance to become aware of the latest research before their peers, and thus be first to develop new insights from the material. Peer reviewing can also be an effective way for a scientist to show their superiors that they are committed to their scientific field 5.
One third of respondents to the survey said they were happy to review up to five papers per year, and an additional one third of respondents were happy to review up to ten. On average, it takes approximately six hours to review one paper 12 , however, this number may vary greatly depending on the content of the paper and the nature of the peer reviewer. Ulrichsweb is a directory that provides information on over , periodicals, including information regarding which journals are peer reviewed After logging into the system using an institutional login eg.
The database provides the title, publisher, and country of origin of the journal, and indicates whether the journal is still actively publishing. The reviewer will then consider whether the research question is important and original, a process which may be aided by a literature scan of review articles.
Scientific papers submitted for peer review usually follow a specific structure that begins with the title, followed by the abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, conclusions, and references. The title must be descriptive and include the concept and organism investigated, and potentially the variable manipulated and the systems used in the study.
The peer reviewer evaluates if the title is descriptive enough, and ensures that it is clear and concise. The abstract is a summary of the paper, which briefly mentions the background or purpose, methods, key results, and major conclusions of the study. The peer reviewer assesses whether the abstract is sufficiently informative and if the content of the abstract is consistent with the rest of the paper. This demonstrates that the abstract alone is often used to assess the value of an article.
The introduction of a scientific paper presents the research question in the context of what is already known about the topic, in order to identify why the question being studied is of interest to the scientific community, and what gap in knowledge the study aims to fill The peer reviewer determines whether the introduction provides sufficient background information on the research topic, and ensures that the research question and hypothesis are clearly identifiable.
The methods section describes the experimental procedures, and explains why each experiment was conducted. The methods section also includes the equipment and reagents used in the investigation. The methods section should be detailed enough that it can be used it to repeat the experiment Methods are written in the past tense and in the active voice.
The peer reviewer assesses whether the appropriate methods were used to answer the research question, and if they were written with sufficient detail. The results section is where the outcomes of the experiment and trends in the data are explained without judgement, bias or interpretation This section can include statistical tests performed on the data, as well as figures and tables in addition to the text. The peer reviewer ensures that the results are described with sufficient detail, and determines their credibility.
Reviewers also confirm that the text is consistent with the information presented in tables and figures, and that all figures and tables included are important and relevant The peer reviewer will also make sure that table and figure captions are appropriate both contextually and in length, and that tables and figures present the data accurately.
The discussion section is where the data is analyzed. Here, the results are interpreted and related to past studies The discussion describes the meaning and significance of the results in terms of the research question and hypothesis, and states whether the hypothesis was supported or rejected.
This section may also provide possible explanations for unusual results and suggestions for future research The discussion should end with a conclusions section that summarizes the major findings of the investigation. The peer reviewer determines whether the discussion is clear and focused, and whether the conclusions are an appropriate interpretation of the results. Reviewers also ensure that the discussion addresses the limitations of the study, any anomalies in the results, the relationship of the study to previous research, and the theoretical implications and practical applications of the study.
Depending on the citation method used, the references are listed in alphabetical order according to author last name, or numbered according to the order in which they appear in the paper. The peer reviewer ensures that references are used appropriately, cited accurately, formatted correctly, and that none are missing.
Finally, the peer reviewer determines whether the paper is clearly written and if the content seems logical. An overview of what a peer reviewer looks for when evaluating a manuscript, in order of importance, is presented in Figure 2. To increase the chance of success in the peer review process, the author must ensure that the paper fully complies with the journal guidelines before submission. The author must also be open to criticism and suggested revisions, and learn from mistakes made in previous submissions.
The peer review process is generally conducted in one of three ways: In double-blind review, the identities of both the reviewer and author are kept anonymous. Open peer review is advantageous in that it prevents the reviewer from leaving malicious comments, being careless, or procrastinating completion of the review 2. It encourages reviewers to be open and honest without being disrespectful.
Open reviewing also discourages plagiarism amongst authors 2. On the other hand, open peer review can also prevent reviewers from being honest for fear of developing bad rapport with the author.
The reviewer may withhold or tone down their criticisms in order to be polite 2. According to the Sense About Science survey, editors find that completely open reviewing decreases the number of people willing to participate, and leads to reviews of little value Single-blind peer review is by far the most common.
This method is advantageous as the reviewer is more likely to provide honest feedback when their identity is concealed 2. This allows the reviewer to make independent decisions without the influence of the author 2. The main disadvantage of reviewer anonymity, however, is that reviewers who receive manuscripts on subjects similar to their own research may be tempted to delay completing the review in order to publish their own data first 2. Double-blind peer review is advantageous as it prevents the reviewer from being biased against the author based on their country of origin or previous work 2.
This allows the paper to be judged based on the quality of the content, rather than the reputation of the author. The disadvantage of double-blind peer review is that, especially in niche areas of research, it can sometimes be easy for the reviewer to determine the identity of the author based on writing style, subject matter or self-citation, and thus, impart bias 2. A study by Justice et al.
There was no perceived difference in quality between the masked and unmasked reviews. Additionally, the masking itself was often unsuccessful, especially with well-known authors However, a previous study conducted by McNutt et al. Although Justice et al. Additionally, there were problems masking the identities of well-known authors, introducing a flaw in the methods. Regardless, Justice et al.
In addition to open, single-blind and double-blind peer review, there are two experimental forms of peer review. In some cases, following publication, papers may be subjected to post-publication peer review. As many papers are now published online, the scientific community has the opportunity to comment on these papers, engage in online discussions and post a formal review. For example, online publishers PLOS and BioMed Central have enabled scientists to post comments on published papers if they are registered users of the site Philica is another journal launched with this experimental form of peer review.
Another experimental form of peer review called Dynamic Peer Review has also emerged. Dynamic peer review is conducted on websites such as Naboj, which allow scientists to conduct peer reviews on articles in the preprint media The peer review is conducted on repositories and is a continuous process, which allows the public to see both the article and the reviews as the article is being developed Dynamic peer review helps prevent plagiarism as the scientific community will already be familiar with the work before the peer reviewed version appears in print Dynamic review also reduces the time lag between manuscript submission and publishing.
These alternative forms of peer review are still un-established and experimental. Traditional peer review is time-tested and still highly utilized. All methods of peer review have their advantages and deficiencies, and all are prone to error.
Open access OA journals are becoming increasingly popular as they allow the potential for widespread distribution of publications in a timely manner Nevertheless, there can be issues regarding the peer review process of open access journals. In a study published in Science in , John Bohannon submitted slightly different versions of a fictional scientific paper written by a fake author, working out of a non-existent institution to a selected group of OA journals.
This study was performed in order to determine whether papers submitted to OA journals are properly reviewed before publication in comparison to subscription-based journals.
Of the journals, accepted a fake paper, suggesting that acceptance was based on financial interest rather than the quality of article itself, while 98 journals promptly rejected the fakes Although this study highlights useful information on the problems associated with lower quality publishers that do not have an effective peer review system in place, the article also generalizes the study results to all OA journals, which can be detrimental to the general perception of OA journals.
There were two limitations of the study that made it impossible to accurately determine the relationship between peer review and OA journals: The following are ten tips on how to be an effective peer reviewer as indicated by Brian Lucey, an expert on the subject Peer review is a mutual responsibility among fellow scientists, and scientists are expected, as part of the academic community, to take part in peer review.
If one is to expect others to review their work, they should commit to reviewing the work of others as well, and put effort into it. If the paper is of low quality, suggest that it be rejected, but do not leave ad hominem comments. There is no benefit to being ruthless. When emailing a scientist to ask them to conduct a peer review, the majority of journals will provide a link to either accept or reject. Do not respond to the email, respond to the link. Suggest how the authors can overcome the shortcomings in their paper.
The peer reviewer plays the role of a scientific peer, not an editor for proofreading or decision-making. Instead, focus on adding value with scientific knowledge and commenting on the credibility of the research conducted and conclusions drawn.
If the paper has a lot of typographical errors, suggest that it be professionally proof edited as part of the review. Stick to the timeline given when conducting a peer review. Editors track who is reviewing what and when and will know if someone is late on completing a review. It is important to be timely both out of respect for the journal and the author, as well as to not develop a reputation of being late for review deadlines.
The peer reviewer must be realistic about the work presented, the changes they suggest and their role. Peer reviewers may set the bar too high for the paper they are editing by proposing changes that are too ambitious and editors must override them.
Ensure that the review is scientific, helpful and courteous. Be sensitive and respectful with word choice and tone in a review. Remember that both specialists and generalists can provide valuable insight when peer reviewing. Editors will try to get both specialised and general reviewers for any particular paper to allow for different perspectives.
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