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Reviewers plays an essential part in Scientific & Scholarly Publishing

Scientists and scholars have relied upon peer review to validate research, engage other specialists in the support of submitted work, and increase networking possibilities within specific specialist communities. Today, validation by peers and publication in a scientific journal continues to be the method through which authors register, validate, disseminate and archive their discoveries and results. The publication process and the speed at which articles are peer reviewed and published are key elements in the appropriate accreditation of scientific and scholarly findings. The peer-review process is an essential part of the publishing process. It validates and confirms a researcher’s work and establishes a method through which work can effectively be evaluated.

Although in recent years the peer-review process has attracted some criticism, it remains the only widely accepted method for research validation and a cornerstone of the scientific publishing process. Most of the scientific publishing companies rely on effective peer review processes to not only uphold the quality and validity of individual articles, but also the overall integrity of the journals we publish.

Who are Reviewers?

Most reviewers are themselves authors, researchers, or sometimes, editors in their own right. Reviewers are in fact colleagues and fellow scientists / researchers who wish to directly contribute an integral part of the process. With this in mind, reviewers play an essential part in scholarly publishing. For more than 300 years, scientists and scholars have relied upon peer review to validate research, engage other specialists in the support of submitted work, and increase networking possibilities within specific specialist communities.

Types of Peer Reviews

There are, essentially, three types of peer-review:

Single Blind Review

The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing, and is, by far, the most common type.

Advantage

Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions free from influence by the author.

Disadvantages

Authors fear the risk that reviewers working in the same field may withhold submission of the review in order to delay publication, thereby giving the reviewer himself the opportunity to publish first. Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the author’s work.

Double Blind Review

Both the Reviewer and the Author remain anonymous.

Advantage

Author anonymity prevents any reviewer bias based on, for example, 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 on the author’s reputation.

Disadvantage

It is uncertain whether a paper can ever truly be ‘Blind’ – especially in specialty ‘Niche’ areas. Reviewers can often identify the author through the paper’s style, subject matter or through self-citation.

Open Review

Reviewer and Author are known to each other.

Advantage

Some scientists feel this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from drawing upon their own ‘Agenda’ and encourage open, honest reviewing.

Disadvantage

Others argue the opposite view. They 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. For example, junior reviewers may hesitate to criticize more esteemed authors for fear of damaging their prospects, especially in case of independent studies.

Purpose of Peer Review

Peer-review is a critical element of scholarly publication, and one of the major cornerstones of the scientific process. Peer-review serves two key functions:

  • Acts as a filter: Ensures research is properly verified before being published;
  • Improves the quality of the research: rigorous review by other experts helps to hone key points and correct inadvertent errors.

On Being Asked To Review

In this case, try to answer the questions?

Does the article you are being asked to review truly match your expertise?

The Editor who has approached you may not know your work intimately, and may only be aware of your work in a broader context. Only accept an invitation if you are competent to review the article.

Do you have time to review the paper?

Reviewing an article can be quite time consuming. The time taken to review can vary from field to field, but an article will take, on average, 3 hours to review properly. Will you have sufficient time before the deadline stipulated in the invitation to conduct a thorough review? If you can not conduct the review let the editor know immediately, and if possible advise the editor of alternative reviewers.

Are there any potential conflicts of interest?

A conflict of interest will not necessarily eliminate you from reviewing an article, but full disclosure to the editor will allow them to make an informed decision. For example, if you work in the same department or institute as one of the authors worked on a paper previously with an author or have a professional or financial connection to the article. These should all be listed when responding to the editor’s invitation for review.

Conducting the Review

Reviewing needs to be conducted confidentially, the article you have been asked to review should not be disclosed to a third party. If you wish to elicit opinion from colleagues or students regarding the article you should let the editor know beforehand.

Most editors welcome additional comments, but whoever else is involved will likewise need to keep the review process confidential.

You should not attempt to contact the author. Be aware when you submit your review that any recommendations you make will contribute to the final decision made by the editor.

Set aside two or three hours to conduct the review. It is better to complete the evaluation in one go rather than snatching time here and there. Depending upon the journal, you will be asked to evaluate the article on a number of criteria. Some journals provide detailed guidance others do not, but normally you would be expected to evaluate the article according to the following:

Originality

Is the article sufficiently novel and interesting to warrant publication? Does it add to the canon of knowledge? Does the article adhere to the journal’s standards? Is the research question an important one? In order to determine its originality and appropriateness for the journal it might be helpful to think of the research in terms of what percentile it is in? Is it in the top 25% of papers in this field? You might wish to do a quick literature search using tools such as Scopus to see if there are any reviews of the area. If the research has been covered previously, pass on references of those works to the editor.

Structure

Is the article clearly laid out? Are all the key elements present: abstract, introduction, methodology, results, conclusions? Consider each element in turn:

  • Title: Does it clearly describe the article?
  • Abstract: Does it reflect the content of the article?
  • Introduction: Does it describe what the author hoped to achieve accurately, and clearly state the problem being investigated? Normally, the introduction is one to two paragraphs long. It should summarize relevant research to provide context, and explain what findings of others, if any, are being challenged or extended. It should describe the experiment, hypothesis (s); general experimental design or method.
  • Methodology: Does the author accurately explain how the data was collected? Is the design suitable for answering the question posed? Is there sufficient information present for you to replicate the research? Does the article identify the procedures followed? Are these ordered in a meaningful way? If the methods are new, are they explained in detail? Was the sampling appropriate? Have the equipment and materials been adequately described? Does the article make it clear what type of data was recorded; has the author been precise in describing measurements?
  • Results: This is where the author (s) should explain in words what he / she discovered in the research. It should be clearly laid out and in a logical sequence? You will need to consider if the appropriate analysis has been conducted? Are the statistics correct? If you are not comfortable with statistics advise the editor when you submit your report. Any interpretation should not be included in this section.
  • Conclusion / Discussion: Are the claims in this section supported by the results, do they seem reasonable? Have the authors indicated how the results relate to expectations and to earlier research? Does the article support or contradict previous theories? Does the conclusion explain how the research has moved the body of scientific knowledge forward?
  • Language: If an article is poorly written due to grammatical errors, while it may make it more difficult to understand the science, you do not need to correct the English. You may wish to bring it to the attention of the editor, however. Finally, on balance, when considering the whole article, do the figures and tables inform the reader; are they an important part of the story? Do the figures describe the data accurately? Are they consistent, e.g. bars in charts are the same width, the scales on the axis are logical.
  • Previous Research: If the article builds upon previous research does it reference that work appropriately? Are there any important works that have been omitted? Are the references accurate?
  • Ethical Issues

    • Plagiarism: If you suspect that an article is a substantial copy of another work, let the editor know, citing the previous work in as much detail as possible.
    • Fraud: It is very difficult to detect the determined fraudster, but if you suspect the results in an article to be untrue, discuss it with the editor.
    • Other Ethical Concerns: If the research is medical in nature, has confidentiality been maintained? If there has been violation of accepted norms of ethical treatment of animal or human subjects these should also be identified.

Communicating Report to Editor

Once you have completed your evaluation of the article the next step is to write up your report. If it looks like you might miss your deadline, let the editor know. Some journals may request that you complete a form checking various points, others will request an overview of your remarks. Either way, it is helpful to provide a quick summary of the article at the top of your report. It serves the dual purpose of reminding the editor of the details of the report and also reassuring the author and editor that you understood the article.

The report should contain the key elements of your review, addressing the points outlined in the preceding section. Commentary should be courteous and constructive, and should not include any personal remarks.

Providing insight into any deficiencies is important. You should explain and support your judgment so that both editors and authors are better able to understand the basis of the comments. You should indicate whether your comments are your own opinion or reflected by data.

When you make a recommendation regarding an article, it is worth considering the categories an editor will likely use for classifying the article:

  • Rejected due to poor quality, or out of scope;
  • Accept without revision;
  • Accept but needs revision (either major or minor).

In the latter case, clearly identify what revision is required, and indicate to the editor whether or not you would be happy to review the revised article.