Peer review and editorial decision making at journals


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Ever wondered what happens to your manuscript once it is submitted to a journal? Does the fate of your paper depend solely on peer review? What are the stages your paper goes through before it is finally accepted or rejected by a journal? To what extent does peer review influence the editorial decision? This SlideShare gives you a detailed account of the journal screening process and tells you what exactly goes on behind the scenes! Read on to find out more.

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Peer review and editorial decision making at journals

  1. 1. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Helping you get published
  2. 2. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals The peer review process is essentially a quality control mechanism. It is a process by which experts evaluate scholarly works, and its objective is to ensure a high quality of published science. However, peer reviewers do not make the decision to accept or reject papers. At most, they recommend a decision. At peer-reviewed journals, decision-making authority rests solely with journal editors or the journal’s editorial board. Indeed, it is the journal editor who is considered to be central to the decision making process.1
  3. 3. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Journal decision-making process Typically, after a paper is submitted to a journal, a journal editor screens the manuscript and decides whether or not to send it for full peer review. Only after clearing the initial screening is the manuscript sent to one or more peer reviewers. Finally, journal editors or the journal’s editorial board consider the peer reviewers’ reports and make the final decision to accept or reject the manuscript for publication.
  4. 4. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Journal Author Journal editor editor/editorial Author is Manuscript is submits screens board decides informed of peer reviewed whether to decisionmanuscript manuscript publish Some manuscripts are rejected before peer review
  5. 5. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsInitial screeningApproximately 3 million manuscripts are submitted to journals every year.1 Given the largevolume of manuscript submissions, more and more journals follow a policy of screeningpapers before sending them for full peer review. During the initial screening, journal editorsmainly check the following: Does the manuscript fit the journal’s scope and aim and will it be of interest to the readership? Is the manuscript of minimum acceptable quality ? Is the content and writing good enough to make it worth reviewing? Is the manuscript compliant with the journal’s instructions for authors?
  6. 6. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsJournal editors typically look at hundreds of manuscripts a year. One of the first itemsthat editors will look at is the cover letter, and they may not get further than the coverletter if the study does not seem interesting enough.Therefore, it is imperative that authors craft a well-written cover letter that highlightsthe significance and strength of their research as well as provides a good reason why themanuscript is a good fit for the journal. Editors will then go through the abstract and mayeven skim through the introduction, figures and tables, or other sections of the paper todetermine whether the manuscript passes their quality threshold.Benefits of initial screening:1. If the manuscript clearly lies outside the scope of the journal, then a rapid rejection allows the author to quickly find and submit their manuscript to another journal.2. Peer reviewers’ time is wasted when they have to spend time evaluating and giving feedback for a manuscript of clearly inferior quality.
  7. 7. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Did you know ? Journal editors reject anywhere between 6% to 60% of submitted manuscripts at the initial screening stage.2 One study found that on average, 21% of submissions are rejected during the initial review by journal editors across disciplines.3
  8. 8. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsPeer reviewGenerally, a minimum of 2 peer reviewers (up to 6) are chosen for the peer review. Peerreviewers are ideally experts in their field. Journals usually build a pool of peer reviewersthat have a good track record of producing high quality reviews. Or they may scan thebibliography to identify potential reviewers or contact researchers they met at conferencesand seminars.1Many journals will first ask potential reviewers whether they are willing toreview the manuscript before assigning them as reviewers.Editors have to be careful to select reviewers who have sufficient subject matter expertiseto do justice to the manuscript. Therefore, highly technical papers or papers from nichesubject areas may take longer to review, because it may take editors some time to locateappropriate reviewers.
  9. 9. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsSome journals give authors the option ofrecommending preferred and non-preferredreviewers. Authors would do well to takeadvantage of this option if available as it can Common types of peer reviewexpedite the review process, since it saves thejournal time in looking for reviewers. Single blind: names of reviewers are notFurthermore, studies have found that author revealed to authorsrecommended peer reviewers tend torecommend acceptance more often than journal Double blind: names of reviewers andrecommended reviewers.4,5 authors are not revealed to each otherThe peer review is completed once all thereviewers send the journal a detailed report with Open peer review: Names of authorstheir comments on the manuscript and their and reviewers are revealed to eachrecommendation. Typically, journals ask otherreviewers to complete their reviews within 3-4weeks.6 However, few journals have amechanism to enforce the deadline, which is whyit can be hard to predict how long the peerreview process will take.6
  10. 10. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsFinal decisionThe journal editor or editorial board considers the feedback provided by the peerreviewers and arrives at a decision. The following are the most common decisions thatare made:1. accept without any changes (acceptance): the journal will publish the paper in its original form2. accept with minor revisions (acceptance): the journal will publish the paper and asks the author to make small corrections3. accept after major revisions (conditional acceptance ): the journal will publish the paper provided the authors make the changes suggested by the reviewers and/or editors4. revise and resubmit (conditional rejection): the journal is willing to reconsider the paper in another round of decision making after the authors make major changes5. reject the paper (outright rejection): the journal will not publish the paper or reconsider it even if the authors make major revisions
  11. 11. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at JournalsFinal decisionThe first option (accept without any changes) is rare.The second decision (accept with minor revisions) is typically the best outcome authorsshould hope for.Once a journal rejects a paper outright, authors are well advised not to resubmit to thesame journal.If the journal wanted to reconsider the paper, they would have issued a conditionalrejection.An outright rejection means that the journal thinks the paper will not meet its publicationstandards or interests even after heavy revisions.
  12. 12. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Editor Speak In general, I classify manuscripts into three groups: 1) excellent-quality work that makes a contribution, 2) satisfactory-quality work that may make a contribution, and 3) poor-quality work that makes no contribution. Categories 1 and 3 are dealt with quickly, with the majority of manuscripts in category 2. This group of manuscripts takes time and reflection before a decision can be made.7- A former journal editor
  13. 13. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Do peer reviewers and editors always agree on what’s worthy of publication? Editors’ decision-making policies vary: some reject when even one peer reviewer recommends rejection, some when the majority recommend rejection, and some only when all reviewers recommend rejection.2 It is common for peer reviewers to give conflicting feedback on the same manuscript.8,9 One journal editorial went as far as to say “Unanimity between reviewers is rare.”10 In cases of conflicting feedback, the journal editor may choose to send the paper to a third reviewer before arriving at a decision, and the author may have to wait longer for the peer review process to be completed.
  14. 14. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Do peer reviewers and editors always agree on what’s worthy of publication? In reality, reviewers tend to recommend acceptance more often than rejection.10 Thus, journal editors end up rejecting many papers that peer reviewers actually recommended for publication, with their decisions based on their own opinions of the papers’ publication worthiness. The role of peer review is considered to be helping authors improve their manuscripts rather than deciding whether they should be published, which is the journal editor’s job.
  15. 15. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Journal Speak The primary purpose of the review is to provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision. The review should also instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their paper to the point where it may be acceptable.11 - Nature
  16. 16. Peer Review and Editorial Decision Making at Journals Conclusion Because of a large number of submissions, top-tier journals are often forced to reject even high quality manuscripts for various reasons, like a large number of submissions or lack of fit with the journal’s editorial focus.2 While reviewers and editors easily agree on what is clearly not acceptable for publication, deciding what is worthy of publication is a tougher challenge.12 Finally, journal editors make decisions to accept or reject papers based on their opinion of the papers’ publication worthiness and reviewers’ comments.10
  17. 17. Most Common Reasons for Journal RejectionsReferences1. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (2011). Peer review in scientific publications Vol 1. House of Commons: London, UK.2. Schultz DM (2010). Rejection rates for journals publishing in the atmospheric sciences. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 91(2): 231-243. doi: 10.1175/2009BAMS2908.1.]3. Thomson Reuters (2011). Increasing the quality and timeliness of peer review: A report for scholarly publishers [white paper]. Available at: Hutchings A (2006). Differences in review quality and recommendations for publication between peer reviewers suggested by authors or by editors. JAMA, 295(3): 314-317.5. Wager E, Parkin EC, Tamber PS (2006). Are reviewers suggested by authors as good as those chosen by editors? Results of a rater-blinded, retrospective study. BMC Medicine, 4: 13. doi: 10.1186/1741- 7015-4-13.6. Association of Learned and Professional Society (2000). Current practice in peer review. Results of a survey conducted during Oct/Nov 2000. Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers: Worthing, UK.
  18. 18. Most Common Reasons for Journal RejectionsReferences7. Samet JM (1999). Dear author-advice from a retiring editor. American Journal of Epidemiology, 150(5): 433-436.8. Rothwell PM & Martyn CN (2000). Reproducibility of peer review in clinical neuroscience: Is agreement between reviewers any greater than would be expected by chance alone? Brain, 123(9): 1964–9.9. Ray JG (2002). Judging the judges: The role of journal editors (editorial). Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 95: 769-74.10. Coronel R (1999). The role of the reviewer in editorial decision-making. Cardiovascular Research, 43(2): 261-64. doi: 10.1016/S0008-6363(99)00177-7.11. Nature. Peer-review policy. Last accessed August 4, 2011. Available at: Howard L & Wilkinson G (1999). Peer review and editorial decision-making. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 20(5): 256-260.
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