Peer review: behind the scenes

It's peer review in pictures

The peer review process is vital to the strength of a journal, ensuring all submissions receive a fair assessment. But what actually goes on in peer review? What role does the editor play in the process? Who is involved? Why does it take time?

If these questions sound familiar to you, read on. We’ll take you behind the scenes of peer review, showing you all the intricate parts that make up this process, and shed light on how much is really involved.

Who’s involved?

The peer review process can vary from journal to journal: some have an editor-in-chief who manages the entire process, others have an administrator who takes care of the initial checks, and many have associate editors who help the editor-in-chief by inviting and assigning reviewers.

There isn’t a one size fits all approach, but here are the key players involved in a typical journal’s peer review process:

 

– Author
– Reviewer
– Associate Editors/Guest Editor
– Editor-in-Chief
– Electronic Editorial Systems Team
– Managing Editor
– Administrator

The lifecycle of a submitted paper

Initial checks
The editor-in-chief or administrator first checks the paper to ensure it has been submitted correctly, with all required information.

– Are all the email addresses of authors and corresponding authors included?
– Is there any additional information in the cover letter?
– Is this paper a candidate for a special issue?
– Has the correct file been uploaded?
– Is the PDF compiled properly?

When all this has been confirmed, the editor-in-chief will assign it to the most appropriate associate editor.

Peer review
It’s now time for the associate editor to invite reviewers. Usually a minimum of two are required for every paper, but this can vary from journal to journal and, depending on how big or small the reviewer pool is, for the subject area.

The editor has the task of finding appropriate reviewers, and they can do so in a number of ways, for example:

– Contacting the journal’s editorial board to review or ask for their suggestions
– Contacting previous authors
– Searching Web of Science for specialists in the subject area
– Searching the journal’s database of existing reviewers
– Use the reviewer locator or reviewer discovery tools, which match keywords in a paper against authors’ keywords in Web of Science.
– Reach out to people from their own professional network

Researchers are busy, and they’re inevitably unable to agree to every review request they receive. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a paper to go through several cycles of requests before finding two willing reviewers.

And then we wait! In almost all cases, reviewers receive five or six automatic reminders before and after their due date.

It’s a lengthy procedure, but it’s absolutely fundamental that all suitable papers receive insightful and thorough reviews to help the editor make a final decision.

Editorial assessment
With the reviews gratefully received, it’s now time for the associate editor to carefully read through them and make a recommendation to the editor. Sometimes, editors can receive contradicting referee reports, and it is up to them to navigate between them.

Where possible, a little constructive advice on how to make use of the views of the referees can make all the difference, and the editor has the responsibility of deciding when and how to do this.

Gary McCulloch, Editor, British Journal of Educational Studies

The editor-in-chief will then usually have the final say, taking into consideration the recommendation from the associate editor and the reviews themselves, and make a decision for acceptance, major or minor revision or rejection.

The decision, along with the reviews and any additional feedback are then sent to the author.

Meanwhile…

Ensuring it’s ethical: staying aware
Issues can sometimes arise such as authorship disputes, allegations of plagiarism and dual submission, allegations of data mishandling/fabrication, and author and reviewer conflicts of interest. Editors need to stay alert to such issues at all times, and report anything suspicious to their Taylor & Francis managing editor, who will support them in investigating the allegation.

Editorial Electronic Systems team support
From building the peer review website in the first place, to training editors, helping with any technical difficulties, and making configuration changes to the site, our Editorial Electronic Systems team provide a helping hand throughout the entire process.

Reporting on peer review
It doesn’t stop at the review! The peer review process running smoothly and efficiently is a key contributor to the health and success of a journal. At Taylor & Francis, we regularly run reports and analyze the data on submissions and turnaround times to get a picture of how the journal is running, and work with editors to improve and streamline the process to ensure quality research gets out there quickly.

Peer review guidance and training 
We provide reviewer guidelines and run peer review workshops to help facilitate peer review best practice. Check out our Author Services and Editor Resources websites for the latest information and resources.


Claire Doffegnies joined Taylor & Francis in 2014, and works as Journals Development Coordinator in the Journal Development Team. She is focused on driving quality in all editorial aspects of journals publishing by helping create best practice guidelines, overseeing the Editor Resources website, and working on the Journal Development Programme.