Journal: what does "peer-reviewed" mean?

It is essential to researchers to publish in peer-reviewed journals. A peer review means that the quality of the research will be assessed by colleagues (usually before publication). Some monograph publishers also work with peer review, which means that the quality of the books they publish has been assessed by fellow researchers of the author(s).

How peer reviews work

In practice, peer review works like this:

  1. Submit: You send your article to a journal. The subject of your article falls within the scope of the journal. An editor will read the article and determine if it meets their quality standards, contains new insights, and is written well.
  2. Feedback: When taken into consideration, the editor will search for two or more peer reviewers. They will review the article and provide feedback within a certain timeframe.
  3. Re-write: You will receive two (or more) assessments from the peer reviewers. Based on these assessments, the editor will reject, partially accept or fully accept the article as is. Usually, parts of the article need to be re-written.
  4. Publication (or not): You submit a revised article, together with reactions to the feedback of the peer reviewers. The editor will assess the article, the feedback, and the comments again. Usually (and especially if the article has been thoroughly reworked), the editor asks for feedback from the reviewers again, to which you as author can react and further refine the article. This process can repeat itself a few times, until the article is accepted (or rejected).

Types of peer review

It is important that the reviewers act independently and impartially, and dare to give honest feedback.  Reviewers should not be guided by the identity of the authors or the research group or university to which they belong. Mechanisms to ensure this are built into the peer review process:

  • Single-blind review: The reviewers know the identity of the author(s), but the authors don’t know who has reviewed their article. This prevents authors from entering into a direct dialogue with a reviewer, e.g., to influence the reviewer's assessment of an article.
  • Double-blind review: The authors don’t know the identity of the reviewers and the reviewers don’t know who the authors of the article they are reviewing are. In addition to the advantages of single-blind review, this prevents (young) reviewers from not daring to be critical about the work of researchers who are highly regarded and have a solid reputation in their field.

In practice (and certainly in small fields) it is difficult or even impossible to guarantee the anonymity of the reviewers and/or authors. In addition, single- and double-blind peer review also have disadvantages. If reviewers remain anonymous, this may contribute to (unnecessarily) harsh criticism or poor quality feedback. Openness and transparency, on the other hand, can stimulate the debate. Some journals therefore opt for open peer review. Authors and reviewers know each other's identity, and often the reviews and the authors' reactions to them are published together with the article. This allows readers to follow the entire publication process. The hard work that some researchers do as reviewers becomes more visible, which may help to make reviewing more appreciated. 

Any form of pre-publication review slows down the publication process – however minimally. Although this delay usually does not outweigh the benefits of peer review, there are also experiments with post-publication peer review. In this case, an article is published online without peer review and only reviewed afterwards. This review can be carried out by a limited number of reviewers appointed by the journal, but also by fellow researchers who comment on an article on their own initiative.

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Last modified June 18, 2024, 10:57 a.m.