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Road to peer review

According to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, “Peer review is the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are not part of the editorial staff.”1 Reviewers play a central role in scholarly publishing. It helps validate research, establish a method by which it can be evaluated, and increase networking possibilities within research communities. Despite criticisms, peer review is still the only widely accepted method for research validation.

Types of peer review

Peer review is not a one-size fits all system; there are variations across journals and research fields. There are three types of peer review as follows:

Single blind review

The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is the most common type by far. This allows reviewers to provide honest, critical reviews and opinions without fear of reprisal from the authors. Besides,

  • Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions – the reviewers will not be influenced by the authors.
  • Authors may be concerned that reviewers in their field could delay publication, giving the reviewers a chance to publish first.
  • Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the authors’ work. 

Double blind review

Both the reviewer and the author are anonymous. Main form of peer review used in the humanities and social sciences.

  • Author anonymity prevents any reviewer bias, for example based on an author’s country of origin or previous controversial work.
  • Articles written by prestigious or renowned authors are considered on the basis of the content of their papers, rather than their reputation.
  • Reviewers can often identify the author through their writing style, subject matter or self-citation.

Open review

Reviewer and author are known to each other. Potential reviewers may be more likely to decline to review. Revealing reviewer identity may lead to animosity from authors, damaged relationships and repercussions for job prospects, promotion and grant funding.

  • Some believe this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from following their own agenda, and encourage open, honest reviewing.
  • Others see open review as a less honest process, in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism.

Road to peer review-General considerations of peer review. Adapted from the ACS Style Guide.2

  • If there is a potential conflict of interest (eg, the author is a colleague of yours), contact journal staff.
  • Read the manuscript carefully. Often, authors complain that reviewers’ critiques give evidence of careless reading.
  • Be fair and objective in evaluating a manuscript and in writing your comments. Ask yourself if you would be willing to sign the critique and send it to the author.
  • Do not consider prevailing opinion to be infallible; you should not recommend rejecting an important paper because its conclusions are not in accord with current scientific orthodoxies.
  • Be specific in your comments to the authors. A comment such as “This manuscript is too long” will not be helpful to an author of an excessively long paper. Provide specific directions for eliminating parts or for condensing others. Call attention to verbose or unclear writing.
  • Consider each section of the manuscript carefully and provide detailed comments for each.
  • Focus on the data, interpretation, and missing information. Although you may feel inclined to edit the manuscript, manuscript editors will typically correct errors in grammar and rhetoric before an accepted manuscript is published.
  • Remember that the manuscript is the property of the author. It is a confidential communication. It may not be used by you or shared with anyone except the editorial staff.

Considerations of peer review by manuscript section3

Abstract

  • Does the abstract contain all necessary components (eg, Context, Objective, Methods, Results, Conclusion)?
  • Does the abstract adequately summarize the main points of the article?
  • Does the information in the abstract (eg, data, terminology) match that in the body of the manuscript?
  • Will the abstract gain readers’ attention? (Many readers decide to continue reading a paper on the basis of the abstract.)

Introduction

  • Do the authors provide adequate context for their topic (eg, why is the topic important and timely?) and cite other relevant research?
  • Does the introduction clearly state the purpose and the hypothesis of the manuscript?
  • Will the general readership of the journal find the topic meaningful?

Methods

  • Is the research design strong?
  • Are the methods sufficiently described so that the study could be replicated by another researcher?
  • Are the statistical methods appropriate to the study?

Results

  • Do the results contain all outcome measures described in the methods (and vice versa)?
  • Are raw data provided (not just summaries or percentages)?

Discussion

  • Is the discussion relevant?
  • Do the authors discuss their findings in the context of existing research?
  • Where appropriate, did the authors discuss the relevance and importance of their findings to osteopathic medicine?
  • Have the study’s limitations and weaknesses been identified?

Conclusion

  • Is the conclusion succinct?
  • Do the data justify the conclusions?

Figures and Tables

  • Is the information in the tables and figures easy to interpret? (Should they be simplified or expanded?)
  • Are the tables and figures detailed enough to stand on their own, without reference to the text?
  • Does information in the tables and figures match the information in the text (particularly data)?

References

  • Is recent and pertinent scientific literature cited?
  • Are original (not secondary) sources used?

References/ Sources

  1. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals: ethical considerations in the conduct and reporting of research: peer review. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors website. http://www.icmje.org/ethical_3peer.html. Accessed October 15, 2013.
  2. Peer review. In: The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2006:71-76.
  3. Thomas Wesley Allen, DO, MPH. Peer Review Guidance: How Do You Write a Good Review? Am Osteopath Assoc. 2013; 113(12):916-920.

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