Managing peer review
High quality peer review is at the heart of any academic journal. Whilst not infallible, and much-debated, it remains the mainstay of academic publication evaluation and is generally seen as an essential component of the scholarly communication process.
Sense About Science has produced a short guide to peer review that may be of interest to journal editors. Aimed at early career researchers, it explains how peer review works and outlines its various limitations. It also includes useful information on the different types of peer review. Download Peer Review: The nuts and bolts from their website.
Your journal’s peer review policy
Your journal’s peer review policy should be stated on your submission guidelines. It should be clear what type of peer review is used (e.g. single-anonymize, double-anonymize etc.) and if peer review varies depending on the article type (e.g. editorials and letters might not be sent for external review). It is also important to state if not all articles are sent for peer review, for example if they fall outside the journal’s scope or the editor deems them to be of insufficient quality to be sent out for external review. It is also good practice to include an indication of the likely timeframe for reaching decisions.
Where an article looks scientifically promising but is poorly written, you may wish to advise authors to withdraw and re-submit after having their paper read by a colleague, particularly if English is not their first language. Sage offers a fee-based English-language editing service for authors wishing to improve the language, presentation and formatting of their manuscripts. Visit Sage Language Services for more information.
Which peer review model should my journal use?
Single anonymized peer review is a traditional peer review process where the reviewers are aware of the authors' identities, but the authors are not aware of the reviewers' identities.
- Reviewer anonymity can encourage more candid feedback from reviewers. Reviewers may feel more comfortable providing constructive criticism without fear of damaging relationships or jeopardising their own careers, particularly if reviewing the work of a more senior researcher.
- Reviewers can review the submission in the context of the author’s previous publications.
- If the author is known to the reviewer, the reviewer may allow personal feelings about the author or their work to influence their review. Other biases may also come into play e.g. around the author’s name, gender, ethnic background, institution or other personal attributes.
- Authors may feel frustrated or disadvantaged if they suspect bias or unfair treatment in the review process but have no way to confirm or address their concerns. Lack of transparency in reviewer identities can lead to feelings of power imbalance and hinder open dialogue.
- This method of peer review prevents direct communication between reviewers and authors during the review process. This limitation can hinder potential collaborations, exchanges of ideas, or additional insights that could have improved the submission.
This is also a traditional peer review process whereby neither the authors nor the reviewers are aware of each other’s identity.
- Double anonymized peer review minimizes bias by preventing reviewers from being influenced by the reputation, gender, institutional affiliations, or other personal characteristics of the authors. This helps ensure that manuscripts are evaluated solely on their scientific merits.
- This method promotes a fair and impartial evaluation process. It allows manuscripts from researchers at different career stages or from underrepresented groups to be assessed based on the quality of their work rather than the perceived status of the authors.
- Reviewers may still infer the authors' identities based on contextual information or recognize the work from preprints or conference presentations. This recognition could introduce biases, particularly if there are well-known research groups or topics associated with certain authors.
Transparent peer review
The author’s and reviewer’s identity are known to all. In some journals, peer review comments are published with accepted manuscripts, alongside the reviewer’s name.
- This is a transparent method of peer review that allows the reader to evaluate the credibility and validity of the review process. This transparency enhances accountability and encourages responsible and constructive feedback from reviewers.
- Open peer review provides an opportunity for reviewers to receive recognition for their contributions. Reviewers can showcase their expertise, establish their reputation, and receive credit for their work.
- Open peer review facilitates direct communication between authors and reviewers, fostering potential collaborations, and enabling the exchange of ideas and feedback.
- It allows researchers, practitioners, and the public to provide their perspectives and contribute to the evaluation of research. This inclusivity promotes diverse viewpoints, encourages interdisciplinary discussions, and can lead to a more comprehensive evaluation of the article.
- Some reviewers, especially, those who are in their early career stage, could be nervous about critiquing more senior researchers in their subject area for fear of negative repercussions on their own careers.
- Authors may feel pressure to respond positively to reviewers' comments or may be influenced by the reputations or authority of reviewers, potentially compromising the independence and objectivity of the evaluation.
- Open peer review can discourage some potential reviewers from participating. Concerns about public exposure, conflicts of interest, or lack of time may limit the willingness of experts to engage in the review process openly. This reduced reviewer pool could impact the diversity of expertise and perspectives available for evaluation.
- Open peer review raises privacy and confidentiality concerns, particularly in sensitive or controversial research areas. The public disclosure of reviewers' identities and comments may inadvertently expose confidential or unpublished information. This can have legal, ethical, or practical implications, potentially leading to self-censorship or limitations in sharing certain types of research.
This could take the form of comments or discussion posted alongside a traditionally peer reviewed published article, or reviews of preprints posted on preprint servers.
- Post-publication peer review can engage a wider audience in the evaluation process. It enables researchers, practitioners, and the public to provide feedback, critique, and contribute their insights.
- The open nature of post-publication peer review enhances transparency in the scientific process. Reviews and discussions are typically publicly accessible, allowing readers to assess the credibility and validity of the research. This transparency can increase trust in the scientific community and improve accountability.
- The iterative nature of post-publication peer review allows for ongoing dialogue between authors, reviewers, and readers. Authors can address concerns, clarify ambiguities, and revise their work based on the feedback received. This iterative process can lead to continuous improvement and refinement of research findings.
- While post-publication peer review can enable broader participation, it may still suffer from low engagement and limited diversity in reviewer participation. Many researchers may be hesitant to invest time and effort in reviewing already published work.
- Post-publication peer review may occur after the research has already influenced the scientific community and possibly even public discourse. Delayed identification of flaws or errors may cause delays in correcting or retracting misleading or incorrect information.
Transferrable peer review
Some Sage journals facilitate the transfer of submissions that are not right for the title in question (with the author’s consent), along with any reviews already collected, to other more suitable Sage journals as part of the Sage Path programme.
- The author has the option to have their submission rapidly assessed for its suitability in another journal.
- Some journal editors prefer to collect reviews from their own pool of reviewers and so the submission will go through the peer review process again.
How can I ensure peer review in my journal is inclusive?
At Sage we are committed to ensuring that the content published in our journals is based on scientific debate and not personal agenda, is representative of our diverse readerships and that the language used in published articles is inclusive and sensitive to our communities.
Peer review plays a significant role in ensuring inclusivity. Consider how inclusive your peer review process is and see our guidance on Taking Action on Diversity for some of the ways our journal editors can improve inclusivity in the peer review process.