Best practice guidelines for peer review
Why you need at least two independent peer reviewers
The publishing landscape is changing, presenting both challenges and opportunities that impact peer review.
There are new risks and threats challenging the traditional trust-based peer review model. This includes the increase of paper mills, academic misconduct, and attempts to discredit politicized disciplines. The complexities of developments in new emerging research technologies, the rise of international collaborations, and multi-disciplinary research also increase the need to make sure all key areas are thoroughly assessed during peer review.
It is more vital than ever, for academic journal editors to follow peer review best practice when assessing original research for publication. Key to this is to make sure that peer review reports are sourced from at least two independent referees, for every original research article we publish.
Demonstrating peer review best practice has been followed, reinforces confidence in your academic community, that the work published in your journal is properly validated and reliably adds to the academic record. Authors also expect – and deserve – an unbiased and full peer review process that offers an opportunity to improve their manuscript based on expert feedback from at least two independent peer reviewers.
Below are our best practice guidelines along with some answered questions to support you and your journal.
What does best practice look like?
As an editor you must be transparent in how you handle manuscripts and be able to substantiate the editorial decisions you make. To avoid the possibility of bias compromising the decision-making process, it is important to get reports from two independent peer reviewers for every published research article.
For more information on what is expected of you, please read our Editor Code of Conduct and the role of the editor.
All Taylor & Francis original research publications must undergo rigorous peer review including:
Anonymous refereeing by a minimum of two independent expert referees
Editor assessment of the work’s readiness for publication, informed by two or more independent referees’ comments
If your journal has a peer review system in place, all peer review activity should be conducted in the system to maintain and record an unbiased and appropriate peer review process.
Journals not on a peer review system must make sure that manual peer review records are created and securely retained in a format compliant with global data protection legislation.
Diligence here will make sure Taylor & Francis can better support editors should there be any need to audit peer review quality or defend manuscript handling in future.
Guidance on independent peer review
An independent peer reviewer is an expert in the field the research article describes, or the specific techniques, methods, or study design underlying it. They have no obvious competing interest that may bias their opinion of the work under review. While we may not be able to detect all types of competing interest (such as personal, political, or religious), the main indicators of a competing interest are:
Recent or regular co-authorship with any of the manuscript authors
Affiliation with the same institute as the authors
To follow best practice in your role as an editor, you should not select two reviewers from the same institution or department. Similarly, independent reviewers should not be from the same institution or department as the handling editor.
The final decision is the editor’s responsibility. Taking into account a range of expert assessments from suitable reviewers, supports you to make a fair editorial decision.
Can an editor act as an independent peer reviewer?
Can an editor desk reject a paper without independent peer reviewer feedback?
Can an editorial board member act as an independent peer reviewer?
An Editorial Board Member may be considered an independent peer reviewer if they:
Requirements for peer review of papers
All original research publications must always be properly peer reviewed by a minimum of two independent experts. This is particularly important for the following types of research:
Clinical manuscripts and articles describing research involving humans or animals must always have at least two independent reviewers.
If an article is on a controversial or divisive topic, advice from multiple reviewers is also required, regardless of manuscript length or type.
However, even in fields without strict requirements, it is a core part of the editor’s role to ensure editorial decisions are supported by a full expert assessment from at least two reviewers.
Benefits of securing two independent peer reviewers
Obtaining reports from two independent peer reviewers reduces bias and reduces the chance that errors/flaws are missed. Where the final decision is challenged by readers of the published paper, editors are better placed to defend their decision.
Reviewers benefit from the opportunity to expertly assess content prior to its publication and wider dissemination. A Taylor & Francis reviewer motivation survey found that two thirds of respondents believe reviewing is a core part of their role and do so because of their interest in the topic, while half value the opportunity to see what is new in their field.
This process also makes sure authors get the thorough peer review process they expect and deserve.
Importance of two independent peer reviewers
Encouraging diversity of voices & expertise
Securing reports from two or more independent peer reviewers helps make sure a range of voices are presented and promotes fair and full evaluation. One individual expert may not be able to assess all elements of the submission. Inviting two or more independent reviewers enables rigorous evaluation of research.
Being exposed to a range of views improves an editor’s ability to be able to make balanced and fair decisions based on a range of expert reviews received. A diversity of voices and expertise in peer review is important in balancing different biases for fair and full evaluation.
Supporting your decisions
A robust peer review process supports defense of your editorial decisions, professional reputation, and your journal, should an integrity challenge arise. If an author isn’t happy with the way their paper was handled or appeals the decision, having two independent peer reviews demonstrates the paper was handled by you appropriately, in-line with policy and following best practice.
Frequently asked questions about independent peer review
Also available are a series of online training modules for peer reviewers: Excellence in Peer Review: Taylor & Francis Review Training network.