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If you’re a student or researcher looking to get published in reputed academic journals, expect your paper to go through an extensive peer review process. What is peer review and why is it important? You might have heard your professors/advisors mention the phrase when they are talking about scholarly work. Let’s dive straight into it!
Every discipline has journals dedicated to publishing new research done within that field. From natural sciences to mathematics, there are journals for every subject possible. There are journals for even specific subdisciplines of a subject. For example, within biology journals, you will find a host of journals about biochemistry, cell biology, and biotechnology.
With over 30,000 journals across the world and over 2 million articles being published each year, there is a lot of academic research that is generated each year! But how does the academic community know which ones of those are legitimate? If it is becoming increasingly easier to get published, how do they know which work is groundbreaking?
Which ones of those are well researched and scientifically valid? That’s what the peer review process determines.
Peer review is a process in which a researcher’s work is critically evaluated by experts from the researcher’s field before it is published in a journal or a conference proceeding. This means that articles published in peer-reviewed journals are those vetted and verified as relevant research for the advancement of the subject.
Peer reviewers help journal editors decide whether an article is fit for publication, needs minor or major revision, or whether it should be rejected altogether.
The peer-review process has been considered as a hallmark of producing good scientific research for over 300 years. It rules out false claims, lack of evidence, inconsistency in arguments and other kinds of biases. The general consensus is that experts of a field are the most qualified to determine how the field advances, and to help improve the quality of research in a subject.
While the final decision of publication is on the editor, peers play an important role in assessing the scientific validity of academic research.
While the variables of the peer review process are different from journal to journal, it usually follows these steps:
There are many variations of this process, and what applies to your paper depends on the subject and journal guidelines.
These peers, also known as referees, then review your work.
Now that we’ve answered some of the most important questions about the peer review process, let’s explore the different types of peer review processes.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of peer review processes: closed and open. In a closed peer review process, the identities of some or all parties involved are anonymous. On the other hand, open peer review processes encourage that the identities of reviewers and authors be known, in an effort to encourage transparency and accountability. Within these two broader types, there are many systems of peer review used across journals and disciplines. Let’s take a look!
In a single blind review (or single anonymized review), the author’s identity is known to the reviewers, while the reviewers’ identity is anonymous to the author. This is the most commonly practiced form of peer review.
This kind of anonymity ensures that the reviewers can critique the work without the pressure of authors being able to respond to them personally. Ideally, this and having details about authors will give them more context to work with.
The flip side of this format is that knowing the author’s identity, affiliation, and research history may also result in a biased critique. Peers may be prone to bias based on an author’s gender identity, academic background, nationality, and so on.
In a double blind review (or double anonymized review), the identities of both the reviewers and authors are unknown to each other. This form of peer review is common in social science and humanities journals.
Double blind reviews ensure impartial review. It allows reviewers to judge papers based on the merit of the research and the ideas it poses, rather than the author and their affiliations. But despite the anonymity, researchers and reviewers often may be able to identify each other, since they are likely to be from the same research work. Reviewers may also be able to identify authors based on writing style, the sources they cite, self citations, and even the topic of research.
In the triple anonymized review system, the author’s identity is anonymous to both the reviewer and the journal editors (until the first round of reviews). Likewise, their identity is unknown to the author as well. This form of review is quite rare currently and is a fairly recent conversation within academia.
While the triple blind review system is poised to reduce bias among all involved parties, it’s still possible for reviewers and editors to identity the author (just like in a double blind review. The bigger constraint is that the logistics of ensuring this level of anonymity is complex, often adding administrative hurdles and increasing publishing costs.
Open peer review is an umbrella term that encompasses review systems where the identities of the authors and their reviewers are known to each other. This can either be during the review process or after the paper has been published.
In some cases, peer-reviewed journals may choose to publish the review alongside your article. Making the review publically available encourages accountability and transparency among peers. Having open conversations about current research improves discourse and the overall quality of research produced in the subject.
Despite its many advantages, open reviews are still fairly unpopular since many researchers are apprehensive about being identified for their review style.
This is a form of peer review in which the researcher’s identity is known to the reviewers, while the latter’s identity is anonymous. So far it sounds like the single blind review, but what makes this transparent is that authors have a chance to know who their reviewers are, provided they agree to disclose their identity. They also have to sign a report stating so.
If the article has been accepted for publication, the review is published anonymously with the article.v
There are instances, in scientific circles, where a journal might reject a paper if they think the research is not relevant to their publication. For researchers, this is a step backwards because they have to start all over again to find journals appropriate for their work, as well as format and revise their papers accordingly.
The research community is increasingly exploring a form of peer review to make this process easier: the transferable peer review system. Under this system, a journal that deems your work unsuitable for publication may recommend you to a journal that’s more relevant to your field and much more likely to align with your research area.
While this is a wonderful way to support researchers, this system presents a lot of logistical hurdles for the journal. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the second journal will publish your paper. That’s still on the merit of your research!
The collaborative peer review model is also a fairly new system. As the name suggests, under this model, the author gets to discuss their research with their reviewer(s). The reviewers’ identities are usually anonymous, with both parties communicating via email or through a communication platform set up by the journal.
This model ensures real-time feedback and exchange of notes between parties. There’s more scope for the researcher to receive in-depth feedback and make necessary revisions swiftly. The flip side of this model, however, is that it’s often logistically difficult for journals to invest the time, effort, and resources to hone the work of every researcher that comes their way.
On one level, all published research is liable to be under the scrutiny of the research community, It’s fair game, after all, and (more importantly) expected that it continuously lives up to the quality of research produced in that field.
But since academia is competitive and there’s constant pressure to publish work, the research community is also exploring a form of peer review that keeps up with rapid publication of papers. This is known as post-publication peer review (PPPR), where peers can respond to a paper after it has been published. Reviews can be sent in by email, letters to the journal, blogs, social media, and discussion forums.
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