Advice for Authors Interested in Peer Review: Editors Share Insights

Learn how to construct a useful review that will benefit the manuscript's authors.
Advice for Authors Interested in Peer Review: Editors Share Insights
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By: Melvin B. Heyman MD, Editor-in-Chief, Western Hemisphere, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, and Professor of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco

The peer review process is an essential component of any scientific journal and is dependent on peer reviewers to conduct thorough, informative, and timely reviews. The Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (JPGN) has been incentivizing peer reviewers by providing CME credit for conducting reviews. The journal also has a convenient checklist available online to help guide peer reviewers in assessing articles, and the checklist is useful for less experienced reviewers and those who are just beginning to get involved in the peer review process. Although the checklist is specific to JPGN, it provides valuable information for anyone considering becoming a peer reviewer for a medical journal.

The peer review process for most journals entails a formal review by experts in the same field to assure that a scholarly work meets necessary and essential standards, including ethical considerations, prior to acceptance and publication. Peer reviewers must always declare potential conflicts of interest, specifically if they have published or conducted research with any of the authors within 3 years and/or if they have competitive interests with the research under consideration.

Because getting useful feedback from reviewers is critical to improving a manuscript, it is also important for authors to be good reviewers. Peer reviewers are considered to be experts in their field and thus, it is necessary to decline any reviews if the manuscript does not fit your expertise. Likewise, reviews should be declined if you cannot return the review in a timely manner or if you have a conflict of interest. Editors will frequently scan a newly submitted manuscript to determine whether it is suitable for the journal or contains a fatal flaw. If the editor finds either of these to be true, he/she will most likely reject it outright before sending it for peer review. However, upon receiving a manuscript, reviewers may wish to quickly read it to determine the quality of the study and the writing. If the quality is poor, the reviewer may only include major comments and/or request that it is rewritten before providing a full review. A short summary of the key findings and value of the manuscript is a good way to begin a review. Comments can then be itemized under major and minor points. Major comments are critical to the validity of the study, and minor comments include areas that require clarification or requests for additional data. The recommendation as to whether the paper should be published is reserved for the editor. Reviewers ought to remember that the goal of peer review is to provide constructive feedback for the author and encourage the efforts of his/her peers. There are limitations to every study, and reviewers need to keep this in mind when assessing the work of others.

What should peer reviews contain?

Ideally, peer reviews should include a detailed critique of the manuscript and a recommendation to accept the manuscript as is (which is unusual on the initial submission), to accept with minor or major revision, or to reject the submission. The editor and the editor-in-chief also review the manuscript, taking into account the comments and suggestions of the peer reviewers, then formulate a final decision that is transmitted to the authors. Occasionally the editors may opt to request additional peer reviewers, possibly to obtain expert opinion on biostatistical methods or another area, particularly when opinions from the initial reviewers are conflicting or confusing. Ultimately, the goal is to provide meaningful and timely feedback to the authors to help improve their manuscript (whether accepted or not) and to maintain high standards for the journal.

JPGN has updated the suggested guidelines for peer reviewers to provide appropriate and useful feedback to the authors and assist the editors in determining the outcome of the submission. The following points are recommended to be addressed by all peer reviewers to help with the editorial process:

  • Is there a hypothesis?
  • Are the methods used the best ones to answer the hypothesis?
  • Are the data clearly presented and analyzed correctly?
  • Does a statistician need to review this manuscript?
  • Are the conclusions supported by the results?
  • Is the discussion succinct? Does it explain the results in relationship to the current literature?
  • Are all the tables and figures useful and understandable?
  • Does the abstract reflect the manuscript correctly?
  • Does the information in the What’s known/What’s new section reflect the manuscript correctly?
  • Can you see yourself or your colleagues citing this article in your own writing on a similar subject?

These points are also helpful for authors to consider as they formulate their manuscripts for submission and then for resubmission in responding to the peer reviewers’ critiques.

Resubmissions

For resubmitted manuscripts, peer reviewers who have previously reviewed a manuscript become essential in the peer review process–editors usually only request the same peer reviewers to provide feedback on resubmitted manuscripts. This is extremely important to keep the peer review process moving forward smoothly and quickly. Having to involve a new peer reviewer is often upsetting to the authors who may have to respond to a new set of queries.

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Go to the profile of Dawn Angel
8 months ago

Peer reviewing is a foundational block of scholarly publishing. As an author, think about how useful some peer review comments have been in improving your article. Acting in the role of peer reviewer can sometimes feel like a thankless job, but understanding the importance of it can help.