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Peer review and editorial decision making at journals


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals The peer review process is essentially a quality control mechanism by which experts evaluate scholarly works and ensure the high quality of published science. However, peer reviewers do not make the decision to accept or reject papers. At the most, they recommend a decision. At peer-reviewed journals, decisionmaking authority rests solely with journal editors or the journal’s editorial board.1


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Journal decision-making process Typically, after a paper is submitted to a journal, a journal editor screens the manuscript and decides whether or not to send it for full peer review. Only after clearing the initial screening is the manuscript sent to one or more peer reviewers. Finally, journal editors or the journal’s editorial board consider the peer reviewers’ reports and make the final decision to accept or reject the manuscript for publication.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Author submits manuscript

Journal editor screens manuscript

Some manuscripts are rejected before peer review

Manuscript is peer reviewed

 YES  NO

Journal editor/editorial board decides whether to publish Author is informed of decision


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Initial screening Approximately 3 million manuscripts are submitted to journals every year.1 Given the large volume of manuscript submissions, more and more journals follow a policy of screening papers before sending them for full peer review. During the initial screening, journal editors mainly check the following: Does the manuscript fit the journal’s scope and aim and will it be of interest to the readership? Is the manuscript of minimum acceptable quality? Is the content and writing good enough for reviewing? Is the manuscript compliant with the journal’s instructions for authors?


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Benefits of initial screening: 1. If the manuscript clearly lies outside the scope of the journal, then a rapid rejection allows the author to quickly find and submit their manuscript to another journal. 2. Peer reviewers’ time is wasted when they have to spend time evaluating and giving feedback for a manuscript of clearly inferior quality.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals

Did you know

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Journal editors reject anywhere between 6% to 60% of submitted


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Who are peer reviewers? •

Peer reviewers are ideally experts in their field. Generally, a minimum of 2 peer reviewers (up to 6) are chosen for the peer review.

Journals usually build a pool of peer reviewers that have a good track record of producing high quality reviews. Or they may scan the bibliography to identify potential reviewers or contact researchers they met at conferences and seminars.1

Many journals will first ask potential reviewers whether they are willing to review the manuscript before assigning them as reviewers.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Some journals give authors the option of recommending COMMON TYPES OF PEER REVIEW preferred and non-preferred reviewers. This saves the Reviewer Author journal time in looking for reviewers. Furthermore, studies have found that author recommended peer   Single blind reviewers tend to recommend acceptance more often   Double blind than journal recommended reviewers.4,5

  Open peer review Editors have to be careful to select reviewers who have  Name Revealed  Name Not-Revealed sufficient subject matter expertise to do justice to the manuscript. Therefore, highly technical papers or papers from niche subject areas may take longer to review. Single blind: names of reviewers are not revealed to authors The peer review is completed once all the reviewers send the journal a detailed report with their comments Double blind: names of reviewers and and recommendation on the manuscript. Typically, authors are not revealed to each other journals ask reviewers to complete their reviews within 3-4 weeks.6 However, journals cannot enforce the Open peer review: Names of authors deadline, so it can be hard to predict how long the peer and reviewers are revealed to each other review process will take.6


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Final decision

The journal editor or editorial board considers the feedback provided by the peer reviewers and arrives at a decision. The following are the most common decisions that are made: 1. accept without any changes (acceptance): the journal will publish the paper in its original form 2. accept with minor revisions (acceptance): the journal will publish the paper and asks the author to make small corrections 3. accept after major revisions (conditional acceptance): the journal will publish the paper provided the authors make the changes suggested by the reviewers and/or editors 4. revise and resubmit (conditional rejection): the journal is willing to reconsider the paper in another round of decision making after the authors make major changes 5. reject the paper (outright rejection): the journal will not publish the paper or reconsider it even if the authors make major revisions


No. 1 2 3 4 5

Decision

Meaning

General frequency


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Final decision

The first option (accept without any changes) is rare. The second decision (accept with minor revisions) is typically the best outcome authors should hope for. Once a journal rejects a paper outright, authors are well advised not to resubmit to the same journal. If the journal wanted to reconsider the paper, they would have issued a conditional rejection. An outright rejection means that the journal thinks the paper will not meet its publication standards or interests even after heavy revisions.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals

Editor Speak In general, I classify manuscripts into three groups: 1) excellent-quality work that makes a contribution, 2) satisfactory-quality work that may make a contribution, and 3) poor-quality work that makes no contribution. Categories 1 and 3 are dealt with quickly, with the majority of manuscripts in category 2. This group of manuscripts takes time and reflection before a decision can be made.7 - A former journal editor


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Do peer reviewers and editors always agree on what’s worthy of publication? Editors’ decision-making policies vary: some reject when even one peer reviewer recommends rejection, some when the majority recommend rejection, and some only when all reviewers recommend rejection.2 It is common for peer reviewers to give conflicting feedback on the same manuscript.8,9 One journal editorial went as far as to say “Unanimity between reviewers is rare.”10 In cases of conflicting feedback, the journal editor may choose to send the paper to a third reviewer before arriving at a decision, and the author may have to wait longer for the peer review process to be completed.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Do peer reviewers and editors always agree on what’s worthy of publication? In reality, reviewers tend to recommend acceptance more often than rejection.10 However, journal editors reject many papers that peer reviewers actually recommended for publication, with their decisions based on their own opinions of the papers’ publication worthiness. The role of peer review is considered to be helping authors improve their manuscripts rather than deciding whether they should be published, which is the journal editor’s job.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Journal Speak The primary purpose of the review is to provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision. The review should also instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their paper to the point where it may be acceptable.11 - Nature


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals Conclusion Because of a large number of submissions, top-tier journals are often forced to reject even high quality manuscripts for various reasons like a large number of submissions or lack of fit with the journal’s editorial focus.2 While reviewers and editors easily agree on what is clearly not acceptable for publication, deciding what is worthy of publication is a tougher challenge.12 Finally, journal editors make decisions to accept or reject papers based on their opinion of the papers’ publication worthiness and reviewers’ comments.10


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals REFERENCES

1. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (2011). Peer review in scientific publications Vol 1. House of Commons: London, UK. 2. Schultz DM (2010). Rejection rates for journals publishing in the atmospheric sciences. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 91(2): 231-243. doi: 10.1175/2009BAMS2908.1.] 3. Thomson Reuters (2011). Increasing the quality and timeliness of peer review: A report for scholarly publishers [white paper]. Available at: http://scholarone.com/media/pdf/peerreviewwhitepaper.pdf 4. Hutchings A (2006). Differences in review quality and recommendations for publication between peer reviewers suggested . JAMA, 295(3): 314-317. 5. Wager E, Parkin EC, Tamber PS (2006). Are reviewers suggested by authors as good as those chosen by editors? Results of a rater-blinded, retr . BMC Medicine, 4: 13. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-4-13. 6. Association of Learned and Professional Society (2000). Current practice in peer review. Results of a survey conducted during Oct/Nov 2000. Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers: Worthing, UK.


Peer review and editorial decision making at journals REFERENCES

7. Samet JM (1999). Dear author-advice from a retiring editor . American Journal of Epidemiology, 150(5): 433-436. 8. Rothwell PM & Martyn CN (2000). Reproducibility of peer review in clinical neuroscience: Is agreement between reviewers any greater th Brain, 123(9): 1964–9. 9. Ray JG (2002). Judging the judges: The role of journal editors (editorial). Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 95: 769-74. 10. Coronel R (1999). The role of the reviewer in editorial decision-making. Cardiovascular Research, 43(2): 261-64. doi: 10.1016/S0008-6363(99)00177-7. 11. Nature. Peer-review policy. Last accessed August 4, 2011. Available at: http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/peer_review.html 12. Howard L & Wilkinson G (1999). Peer review and editorial decision-making. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 20(5): 256-260.


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Peer review and editorial decision making at journals