Peer review follows a number of steps, beginning with submitting your article to a journal.
Step 1: Editor assessment
When your manuscript arrives at the journal’s editorial office it will receive an initial desk assessment by the journal’s editor or editorial office. They will check that it’s broadly suitable for the journal.
They will ask questions such as:
Is this the right journal for this article?
Does the paper cover a suitable topic according to the journal’s aims & scope?
Has the author followed the journal’s guidelines in the instructions for authors? They will check that your paper meets the basic requirements of the journal, such as word count, language clarity, and format.
Has the author included everything that’s needed for peer review? They will check that there is an abstract, author affiliation details, any figures, and research-funder information.
Does it make a significant contribution to the existing literature?
If your article doesn’t pass these initial checks the editor might reject the article immediately. This is known as a ‘desk reject’ and it is a decision made at the editor’s discretion, based on their substantial experience and subject expertise. By having this initial screening in place, it can enable a quick decision if your manuscript isn’t suitable for the journal. This means you can submit your article to another journal quickly.
If your article does pass the initial assessment, it will move to the next stage, and into peer review.
“As an editor, when you first get a submission, at one level you’re simply filtering. A fairly small proportion do not get sent out by me for review. Sometimes they simply fall outside the scope of the journal.”
– Michael Reiss, Founding Editor of Sex Education
Step 2: First round of peer review
Next, the editor will find and contact other researchers who are experts in your field, and will ask them to review the paper. A minimum of two independent reviewers is normally required for every research article. The aims and scope of each journal will outline their peer review policy in detail.
The reviewers will be asked to read and comment on your article. They may also be invited to advise the editor whether your article is suitable for publication in that journal.
So, what are the reviewers looking for?
This depends on the subject area, but they will be checking that:
Your work is original or new.
The study design and methodology are appropriate and described so that others could replicate what you have done.
You’ve engaged with all the relevant current scholarship.
The results are appropriately and clearly presented.
Your conclusions are reliable, significant, and supported by the research.
The paper fits the scope of the journal.
The work is of a high enough standard to be published in the journal.
Once the editor has received and considered the reviewer reports, as well as making their own assessment of your work, they will let you know their decision. The reviewer reports will be shared with you, along with any additional guidance from the editor.
If you get a straight acceptance, congratulations, your article is ready to move to publication. But, please note, that this isn’t common. Very often, you will need to revise your article and resubmit it. Or it may be that the editor decides your paper needs to be rejected by that journal.
Please note that the final editorial decision on a paper and the choice of who to invite to review is always the editor’s decision. For further details on this, please see our peer review appeals and complaints policy.
Step 3: Revise and resubmit
It is very common for the editor and reviewers to have suggestions about how you can improve your paper before it is ready to be published. They might have only a few straightforward recommendations (‘minor amendments’) or require more substantial changes before your paper will be accepted for publication (‘major amendments’). Authors often tell us that the reviewers’ comments can be extremely helpful, to make sure that their article is of a high quality.
If you do not intend to make the revisions suggested by the journal and resubmit your paper for consideration, please make sure you formally withdraw your paper from consideration by the journal before you submit elsewhere.
Step 4: Accepted
And that’s it, you’ve made it through peer review. The next step is production
How long does peer review take?
Editorial teams work very hard to progress papers through peer review as quickly as possible. But it is important to be aware that this part of the process can take time.
The first stage is for the editor to find suitably qualified expert reviewers who are available. Given the competing demands of research life, nobody can agree to every review request they receive. It’s therefore not uncommon for a paper to go through several cycles of requests before the editor finds reviewers who are both willing and able to accept.
Then, the reviewers who do accept the request, have to find time alongside their own research, teaching, and writing, to give your paper thorough consideration.
Please do keep this in mind if you don’t receive a decision on your paper as quickly as you would like. If you’ve submitted your paper via an online system, you can use it to track the progress of your paper through peer review. Otherwise, if you need an update on the status of your paper, please get in touch with the editor.
A 360⁰ view of peer review
Peer review is a process that involves various players – the author, the reviewer and the editor to name a few. And depending on which of these hats you have on, the process can look quite different.
To help you uncover the 360⁰ peer review view, read these interviews with an editor, author, and reviewer.