Peer review is a process to evaluate articles sent to academic publications. It generally applies to scholarly journals, but it is possible for a book to be peer reviewed, for instance if it is submitted to a university press. The manuscript will be sent to two or three independent referees, who will review it.
If the feedback is positive, the university press will send it to its editorial board, who are also faculty members, for final review.
What is the peer review process for academic journals?
Most researchers come across peer review when submitting a paper to a scholarly journal. The peer review’s aim is to present an author’s academic work to the scrutiny of experts in the same field and it serves two purposes: to ensure original and excellent articles are published in the journal and to improve the manuscript itself. This is beneficial to the author as peer reviewers provide suggestions to improve the quality of the paper while identifying any errors or omissions.
Peer review has been used to evaluate written work since ancient Greece, first in the context of medical notes and then as a method to ascertain the quality of a publication after the invention of the printing press in 1453. One of the first academic journals to use it and formalise it was Philosophical Transactions, founded in 1665 by The Royal Society, which we mentioned in a previous article as the world’s first and longest-running scientific journal.
From these early and illustrious beginnings, the peer review process has become the norm in academic journal publishing. When a researcher submits a paper, the editor will evaluate it to ensure it meets the aims and focus of the journal and if it selected, the article is sent to peer reviewers. Peer reviewers provide feedback on the research paper in terms of quality, raise queries if something is unclear or needs additional explanation, and offer suggestions. If the feedback is positive, the author is required to revise his/her paper according to the reviewers’ comments.
Peer reviewers ensure that only articles that meet high scientific standards are published in international journals; criteria include, for instance, building upon other work in the field, backing up claims with evidence and presenting findings accurately. Peer-reviewed scholarly journals enjoy great respect in academia and attract more citations, which has a positive influence on the Impact Factor of journals.
Types of peer review
Peer review is considered the best form of scientific evaluation, so the quality of the peer review process is crucial when choosing an academic journal publisher. The most common types are single blind, double blind, triple blind and open.
Single-blind review is the most used method; the names of the reviewers are hidden from the author to allow impartial decisions. In the double-blind review, the reviewer and the author are anonymous, which limits reviewer bias on the author’s gender, reputation or country of origin. With triple-blind review, reviewers are anonymous and the author’s identity is unknown to the reviewers and the editor. Open review is where author and reviewer/s are known to each other. Some academics believe this is a more transparent process that can stop plagiarism, others feel that reviewers might not feel comfortable expressing their opinions for politeness or fear of retribution.
In the past few years, new models have been developed as variations: transparent, collaborative and post publication. The transparent peer review involves posting the review’s report with the published article, while reviewers can choose if they want to be named. The collaborative peer review involves two or more reviewers working together. The post-publication review is the review of a published paper, but it does not exclude other types of peer review.
In a previous article entitled Publishing your first academic book, we advised early-career researchers to start publishing articles in reputable journals as a way to get experience and build up a career as academic authors. Open-access journals are particularly helpful because they are not behind a paywall and can reach a wider audience.
The research process expects ethical behaviour and good practice. As plagiarism and self-plagiarism are on the increase, academic publishers are using software to detect these instances of scientific misconduct.