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Operating a Student Academic Journal

A guide for student editors of academic journals

 

Peer Review

The Purpose of Peer Review

Peer review is intended to ensure the quality of research before it is published by having another academic with expertise in the field review the paper and provide feedback. This process helps the author by allowing them to improve their work, helps the publisher by raising the quality of the research that they publish, and helps readers by giving them greater assurance that the work they are reading is of a high quality. 

There are many things to consider when deciding how to operate peer review in your journal. 

  • What form of peer review will you use?

Traditionally peer review has been blind. This method is intended to avoid bias and other ethical issues. However, recently more open peer review methods have been developed. See "Forms of Peer Review" below for a more detailed discussions of the various forms of review and their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Will your reviewers know what is expected of them?

Because the review process varies between publications, it is important to be clear with what your expectations are. Will there be a single round of reviews, or will they be expected to provide feedback on future drafts? Should they comment on composition, or only on the content of the research? What is the deadline for submitting feedback? Who should they contact if they have questions or concerns? Making this clear to the reviewers will make their jobs easier and save time for the editors.

  • How will you prevent bias?

It is important to the review process that the reviewers give an impartial assessment. A reviewers biases for or against an author's nationality, institution, gender, age, etc. can negatively affect their ability to give a fair and useful review. This can be avoided by keeping the identity of author hidden from the reviewer (double-blind review). You should also make clear in your reviewer guidelines what reviewers should do if they have a conflict of interests in the review process.

Forms of Peer Review

Each of these forms of review have their own benefits and drawbacks. Consider your journal's available resources, priorities and values, and create a peer review process and policies that best fit with your situation.

Blind Review

In blind peer review, the identity of the reviewer is not known by the author. This is intended to allow the reviewer to communicate freely. However, it depends on the reviewer to act ethically, for instance, informing the editors of any conflicts of interest, and to work to overcome any biases they may have against the author due to their gender, nationality, institutional affiliation, etc.

Double-Blind Review

Double-blind review keeps the identity of both the reviewer and the author secret from each other. This is intended to overcome bias, as the reviewer will not have information about the author that may lead to biases. It requires the editors to remove any information from the paper that would reveal such information to the reviewer. This can be difficult to accomplish in cases where this information may be relevant to the research.

Open Review

Open review is a term for a review process that does away with the traditional approaches of hiding the reviewer's and author's identities. These review methods arose from issues with the existing review systems: issues with consistency, lack of accountability and bias. The term can be used for a number of different methods of review. 

Open Identities

In this method, the identities of the reviewer and author are shared with each other.

Transparent Review/Open Report

In a transparent or open report review, the correspondence between the author and reviewer are published along with the paper, allowing readers to see the review process

Open Participation

In open participation review, the wider community is able to participate in the review process. 

Open Interaction

In this type of review, interactions between authors and reviewers, and between reviewers and reviewers, are encouraged.

 

For more information on the different peer review methods, see this resource from the Digital Publishing Workshop @ Columbia.

Ethics

Peer review is an important part of the publishing process, and it is important that it is done in an ethical manner. As a journal editor, it is your responsibility to conduct peer review in a way that deals with ethical concerns as much as possible

One area to consider is conflicts of interest for reviewers. If the reviewer has a previous personal or professional relationship with the author, or may be affected financially by the publication, this creates a conflict of interest that may affect their judgment when it comes to the review. Using a double-blind review method can help to prevent this. It is also important to be clear in your review policy and reviewer guidelines what actions must be taken by the reviewer if a conflict of interest arises.

Another consideration is confidentiality. Since reviewers are receiving unpublished works, they have an ethical responsibility not to disseminate this work. As a publisher, you can help by making this clear in your review policy. It is also important to establish what reviewers may share after publication. For example, are the notes and reports from the review process to be kept confidential as well?

By taking these ethical issues into considerations, and creating policy and guidelines that address them, you will make you journal a more trustworthy source for readers and a more appealing place to publish for authors.

 

For detailed guidelines on ethics in peer review, see these Ethical Guidelines For Peer Reviewers from the Committee on Publication Ethics.

Resources

Nature offer a free online course on peer review. It is directed at reviewers but contains plenty of useful information for peer review editors as well.