Peer Review: A Journalistic Overview
The term “Peer Review” is ubiquitous in scientific research circles. But what are all the parts and pieces of the peer review process? In this post, we’ll take a journalistic approach and investigate the fundamentals of peer review by asking the ‘5 Ws’: Who, What, Where, When, and Why? (For the sake of clarity, we'll shift the order and start with What?)
WHAT is peer review?
Peer review is a process scholarly journals use as they consider whether or not to accept a manuscript for publication. A journal will typically invite two or more reviewers (also known as referees) to evaluate and comment on the quality of the author's work—and provide their recommendation on whether or not it should be published.
The journal editors will take all the reviewers’ recommendations into consideration before determining the fate of the author's manuscript. There are a variety of outcomes of the peer review process. Fundamentally, the editors use the reviewer comments to decide whether to accept or reject a manuscript (and there can be many flavors within those outcomes, such as accept with minor revisions or conditional acceptance with heavy revisions). Although the peer review has significant impact on whether a paper gets published, the final decision is up to the journal’s editors.
WHO are the peer reviewers?
Ideally, reviewers are experts in the field of study covered in the manuscript they are chosen to review. Thus, they are presumed to be ‘peers’ of the author. Selecting qualified reviewers is critical. Indeed, in order to make a knowledgeable recommendation on the quality of the manuscript, the reviewers must be experts on the paper's subject matter. Sometimes, reviewers will be invited who have subject matter expertise on a specific element of a manuscript, such as a statistics reviewer. These reviewers check designated sections, but are not usually commenting on the paper as a whole.
WHY do journals use peer review?
The main objective of peer review is to help ensure that only high-quality, credible literature is published in scholarly journals. But that's not all that peer review is good for. The constructive feedback authors receive from their peers can help them improve their manuscripts. Which in turn, helps to advance the body of scientific knowledge. The peer review system is not perfect, however, and poor-quality research can still slip through the cracks and get published.
WHEN does peer review take place (and how long is the process)?
Top scholarly journals receive far more manuscripts than they can publish. And sending every single one through the peer review process would be an inefficient use of time and resources. As such, most journals will conduct an initial, internal review of all manuscripts they receive. Only those that pass the editors’ screening will be sent on for peer review.
Once the reviewers have been selected, the typical timeframe for completing reviews is about three or four weeks. However, there are no hard and fast rules for determining how long the review process will take. Manuscripts that cover highly specialized topics, for example, may take longer simply because it can be more difficult to find willing reviewers with the requisite expertise.
WHERE can you find peer-reviewed articles?
Peer-reviewed articles are published in a wide range of scholarly journals. If you’re looking for papers on a specific topic, you can search the online databases of appropriate scholarly journals. To do a wider search, you can use one of many online scholarly search engines, like PubMed and Google Scholar. Once you find a paper you want, however, accessing the full-text article isn’t always easy. You may need to do some hopping around various websites to find out if the full-text paper is available – and then determine the best way to access it.
At Research Solutions, we make it easy to find and obtain scholarly literature. With a free Article Galaxy account, you can search for peer-reviewed content across PubMed and 70+ discovery portals. Once you find an article of interest, you can instantly order the full-text paper, at the best price available (thanks to Article Galaxy’s low-cost and open access filters).
Want to learn more about peer review?
Peer review is a big topic, and there is more to discuss! Check out our post detailing single-blind peer review and other types of peer review models—and the potential for bias in the process.