Peer review process | What is peer review | Editor Resources

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An editor’s guide to the peer review process

Introduction

This page looks at a range of options to help you find and retain reviewers, including using submission systems, engaging the editorial board, supporting and rewarding reviewers.

Editorial decision making and the peer review process

The peer review process is a fundamental part of research publishing. It’s a way of ensuring only articles of the highest quality, which describe sound research methods and results, are published.

The process involves both the journal editors and external expert reviewers, who evaluate the submitted articles. Peer reviewers can recommend whether or not they believe an article should be accepted or rejected by the journal. However, the ultimate authority to make the final decision rests solely with journal editors or the journal’s editorial board.

Let’s take a look at the key steps in the decision-making process.

Initial screening

After an article 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 article sent to one or more peer reviewers. Editors will consider the following aspects:

  • Is the manuscript good enough quality to be sent for peer review?
  • Does it conform to the aims and scope of the journal and has it followed the style guidelines and instructions for authors?
  • Does it make a significant contribution to the existing literature?

Unsuitable articles may be rejected without peer review at the editor’s discretion. If the article passes these initial checks, it will be sent for peer review.

Benefits of carrying out this initial screening include:

  • A quick decision for authors – if the manuscript clearly lies outside the scope of the journal, then a rapid rejection allows the author to submit their article to another journal more quickly.
  • Peer reviewers’ time is not wasted – reviewers don’t have to spend time evaluating and giving feedback for a manuscript of clearly inferior quality.

The peer review process

Once an article has passed the initial screening process, it’s sent for peer review. As an editor, you’ll appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the peer review process. There are many people involved, including:

  • You as an editor
  • A team of associate editors
  • An administrator
  • The reviewers
  • Editorial board members
  • The Taylor & Francis Peer Review and Online Submissions teams
  • Your Taylor & Francis Portfolio Managers

There are different types of peer review operated by different journals. But no matter what type of peer review your journal uses, there are plenty of intricate parts to keep everyone busy.

Taking care of the initial checks, assigning the right associate editor, finding enough willing reviewers, assigning reviewers, and checking for ethical issues are all key parts of the process. Not to mention the actual task of writing the review.

Editors need to be careful to select reviewers who have sufficient subject matter expertise to do justice to the article they’re reviewing. You can read more about finding reviewers on the ‘How to find reviewers’ section below.

Given all this, it’s no wonder that peer review takes time.

How long does peer review take?

A question often asked by authors, but also important to editors, is how long does it take between submission and publication of an article. This is a hard question to answer, but often peer review is the lengthiest part of this process.

Journals usually ask reviewers to complete their reviews within 3-4 weeks. However, few journals have a mechanism to enforce the deadline, which is why it can be hard to predict how long the peer review process will take. It’s also worth bearing in mind that highly technical papers or papers from niche subject areas could take longer to review because it often takes editors more time to find appropriate reviewers.

However, there are things you can do as an editor to make peer review more effective and efficient. Focus your efforts on good time management and supplying high-quality reviews. Being aware of the following potential delays can help you limit their effects:

  • Difficulty in finding appropriate reviewers
  • Delayed response from reviewers
  • Unhelpful review reports – reviews that are a single sentence or paragraph are unhelpful to authors or editors. A normal review report should be two to three pages in length, sometimes longer. (Read how to write a review report.)

The final decision

Editors have various options when it comes to making a decision on an article. The following are the most common decisions made:

  • Accept without any changes (acceptance): the journal will publish the article in its original form.
  • Accept with minor revisions (acceptance): the journal will publish the article once the author has made some small corrections.
  • Accept after major revisions (conditional acceptance ): the journal will publish the article if the authors make changes suggested by the reviewers and/or editors.
  • Revise and resubmit (conditional rejection): the journal will reconsider the article in another round of decision making once the authors have made major changes.
  • Reject the paper (outright rejection): the journal won’t publish the article or reconsider it.

How to find qualified reviewers

You can avoid or lessen delays in the peer review process by growing and strengthening your pool of potential reviewers. You can do this by using peer review systems and engaging with your editorial board.

We have 5 top tips for finding reviewers:

  1. Set predefined keywords
  2. Set search preferences to select reviewers
  3. Use reviewer locator tools to find new reviewers
  4. Assess your reviewer list regularly to identify quality reviewers
  5. Engage the editorial board to expand your reviewer pool

1. Set predefined keywords to find reviewers

One of the easiest ways to find peer reviewers is to use keywords and/or classifications. Journals often let authors submit their own keywords, meaning they can define their own areas of expertise. Journal editorial teams use this information to locate suitable reviewers for each manuscript. They can search using the journal’s own database, or specially-designed software, facilitated by PubMed to cast the net further. When implementing a predefined list of keywords on your journal, consider two things:

  • First, ensure the list of keywords is as extensive as possible;
  • Second, decide if this should be a compulsory field during submission.

 

2. Set search preferences to select reviewers

Searching for and selecting reviewers is a crucial part of the editorial process. Using the tools at your disposal within your ScholarOne system can save you time. At the Select Reviewer step of the workflow is the option to Set My Search Preferences. This is a way to predetermine and save your own preferences for how you want the search results to appear. This ensures that future searches give you the information you need to efficiently select reviewers for a particular manuscript. The default setting for search results when selecting reviewers displays:

  • The number of review assignments an individual has currently and has had in the past twelve months
  • The number of days since their last review
  • Their average R-score (a rating metric for reviewers)

 

Read more on how to set your search preferences on ScholarOne to find reviewers

3. Use reviewer locator tools to find new reviewers

Reviewer locator tools help match submissions to suitable reviewers by drawing information from extensive databases of researchers. This makes the process of finding reviewers for manuscripts much easier.

  • Reviewer Locator on ScholarOne. Once a paper is submitted, the Reviewer Locator automatically searches for reviewers based on a manuscript’s keywords and abstract.
  • Reviewer Discovery on Editorial Manager. This tool finds matches based on how closely the topics reflected in the article’s title and abstract correlate with ProQuest scholar profiles.

 

Find out how to use reviewer locator tools to find new reviewers for your journal.

4. Assess your reviewer list regularly to identify quality reviewers

You should regularly check your reviewer list on submission systems to prevent it from becoming outdated. If your list contains willing, reliable and able reviewers, you can enrich your journal’s peer review process. In turn, this will generate better quality reviews and reduce your review times. Run the Performance Report once or twice a year to see who your best reviewers are so you can reward them. You can also weed out the reviewers that never reply or don’t return agreed reviews. In such cases, the “reviewer” role can even be expired so that they no longer show when searching for reviewers. Once a reviewer has completed their report, send them a thank you letter. You can also prompt reviewers to update their details and keywords. Accurate and updated keywords ensure that the keyword match tool stays effective.

Read more on how to manage your reviewer list on submission systems

5. Engage the editorial board to expand your reviewer pool

Your editorial board is a great source for feedback, ideas and recommendations. Engaging them in the peer review process will help you improve the efficiency for peer review and expand your reviewer pool.

  • Ask the editorial board to filter out papers that are immediately inappropriate, whether on quality or topic. This helps to reduce wasted time.
  • Add topics and keywords to each board member to define their subject interest and expertise.
  • Invite board members to review papers based on their subject specialism.
  • Encourage board members to recruit reviewers via networking events and conferences. Conference presenters are often useful to approach as potential reviewers or authors.
  • Encourage board members to engage early-career researchers and increase the diversity of your reviewer pool.

How to retain and reward reviewers

Without reviewers, the peer review process and journal publishing as a whole would fall apart. They provide a vital and important service that ensures the quality and integrity of published research.

While most reviewers see their work as providing service to the academic community, it’s still a voluntary service and one of many demands on their time. Yet peer review can help researchers advance their careers, that is if they have the right evidence to show the expertise they’ve built up. Journal editors can support peer reviewers by both recognizing and validating their work.

Doing so isn’t just beneficial for reviewers either. A case study produced by Publons with the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), showed that researchers are more willing to review and provide useful, constructive feedback if they know their contributions will be formally recognized.

There are a few different ways that Taylor & Francis editors can reward and retain their reviewers:

Provide support and guidance

Our reviewer guidelines provide an important source of support for reviewers about what to expect during the peer review process, how to write review reports, and ethical considerations.

In addition, it’s important for editors to take the time to provide feedback to reviewers and encourage authors to do the same. This is particularly important when supporting early career researchers, as they will undoubtedly be feeling unsure about how well they’ve carried out their reviews. Offering encouragement and tips for improvement will be invaluable to them.

Publish the names of your reviewers as a thank you

Many journals will publish the names of all their reviewers on a regular basis (for example, annually during Peer Review Week). This provides public acknowledgment of the service they’ve delivered.

Offer reviewer rewards or discounts

We have two options for rewarding reviewers in this way:

  1. Many of our journals now give peer reviewers 30-days’ free access to Taylor & Francis journal content upon agreeing to review. This provides them with resources to assist in the creation of quality reviews.
  2. We offer a 30% book discount to all our reviewers when purchasing any Taylor & Francis Group books. This includes those under the Routledge and CRC Press imprints.

Present a reviewer certificate or confirmation letter

Our certificate of recognition serves as a formal acknowledgment of a reviewer’s role. Reviewers can request the certificate from their Taylor & Francis contact. It gives them something they can present to employers or their institutions (or simply use to decorate their office). A reviewer confirmation letter is also available on request.

Use Publons

We’ve recently extended our partnership with Publons to 250 journal titles across a range of subject areas. Through Publons, researchers can showcase a complete record of their reviewing activity as evidence of their subject-area expertise. They can also earn ‘merit’ points for their contributions

Find out more on how to support and recognize peer reviewers with Publons

Ethics in peer review

As there’s been a steady rise in the number of journals using electronic peer review, there has unfortunately also been a rise in ethical concerns about the peer review process. We’ve put together some detailed information on the issues editors need to be aware of.  You can also read a summary of the key points below.

Best practice guidelines for editors

  1. Be aware of fake reviews and safeguarding peer review integrity

One of the most high-profile ethical issues in peer review is the increase in cases of ‘fake reviewers’. As a responsible publisher, Taylor & Francis has taken the decision to safeguard the integrity of our peer review by removing the ‘Preferred reviewers’ function from our ScholarOne Manuscripts and Editorial Manager sites. See here for more information on this. 

  1. Clarify peer review policies for the journal

  • State the types of peer review offered.
  • State whether an article has been peer reviewed. For example, it may be the case for a journal that editorials and letters are not peer reviewed, but original articles and reviews always are – this needs to be clear.
  1. Apply consistent peer review standards

Editors should apply consistent standards in their peer review processes, including for special issues, supplements, or where peer review has been managed by a guest editor.

  1. Ensure confidentiality

Editors should ensure confidential handling of article manuscripts. No details should be disclosed to anyone except the peer reviewers without permission from the author.

  1. Be aware of reviewer bias and conflicts of interest

Before agreeing to review an article, reviewers must declare any conflicts of interest. This includes any relationship with the author that may potentially bias their review. Editors are also responsible for checking for potential reviewer biases, rather than relying solely on declarations.

  1. Manage a reviewers’ database

To ensure journals have a pool of trusted reviewers, it’s important to establish and maintain a secure database of suitably qualified peer reviewers. This needs to be compliant with data protection legislation.

  1. Ensure reviewers are aware of guidelines

Our reviewer guidelines provide an important source of support for reviewers about what to expect during the peer review process.

  1. Be aware of the need for co-author verification

Editors need to ensure that all co-authors listed for an article have made a genuine contribution to the research. Read more details.

  1. Know where to go for support

There are a variety of support sources to help navigate the ins and outs of peer review ethics.

For editors

The following ethical guidelines are also available from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE):

For authors – read our guide on Ethics for authors.

For reviewers – visit our Guide to becoming a peer reviewer and the COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers.

 

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