Understanding peer review

Understanding peer review

Understanding peer review 

Peer review is the process by which scientific papers are subject to critical analysis by experts in the field.

Peer review acts as a quality assurance measure, ensuring that papers do not have fundamental flaws, and that they are suitable for publication in a particular title. It also improves the quality of final published papers via the process of recommendations and revisions. 


How does peer review work?

Bioscientifica’s journals operate a single-blind peer review model; the reviewers know the name of the authors but the authors do not know the identity of the reviewers. The reviewer is granted anonymity to allow for honest, critical appraisal.

When a paper is submitted it typically passes through the following stages: 

The paper is checked by editorial office staff to determine: if the article fits with the journal’s remit; that all files have been received; the article is formatted correctly; all files have been received and author and funding details have been provided. Articles may also be screened for plagiarism using the Cross Check system.

The Editor-in-Chief (EiC) makes an initial assessment to determine if the paper is suitable for publication in the journal. If the EiC feels the paper is not suitable it will be immediately rejected so as not to waste the time of both reviewers and authors. At this stage the EiC considers if: the article is well written; it says/shows anything new; is scientifically sound.

If the EiC feels the paper has potential for publication it will be sent to a Senior Editor.

A Senior Editor will read the paper and appoint two or more specialist reviewers to review the paper. Reviewers can be sourced from the journal’s database, the editor’s contacts, the manuscript bibliography, subject and publication databases and suggestions from authors. Authors can also specify non-preferred reviewers if they wish.

The peer reviewers will read the paper and provide a report and a recommendation for publication. Reviewers are not financially remunerated for their work and must find time to review amongst their other commitments.

Once the peer review reports have been received the Senior Editor will consider the feedback and publication recommendations and produce a final assessment for the EiC. The Senior Editor will make an assessment of the peer reviewer comments, checking if they are valid, fair and reasonable. Peer reviewers often do not agree so it is the responsibility of the Senior Editor to decide which comments and recommendations are the most appropriate. A further peer review will be sought if further clarification is required.

The EiC makes the final publication decision based on the Senior Editor’s recommendations. It is a common misconception that peer reviewers make publication decisions but it is the EiC who has final say on all published content in a journal. The role of the Senior Editor and EiC in moderating reviewers comments and providing authors will clear guidance cannot be understated and often makes the difference between an unsatisfactory and a well-functioning peer review system.

 What does the decision on my paper mean?

  • Accept: it is extremely rare for a paper to be accepted upon first submission without any requested amends, reviewers and editors will always find ways a paper can be improved.
  • Minor amends: once the author has addressed a number of small issues the paper will be suitable for publication. When the paper is resubmitted it will be assessed by the EiC and Senior Editor; it will not be sent again to external reviewers.
  • Major amends: the paper has potential for publication but a number of more substantial issues or changes will need to be addressed. When the paper is resubmitted it will be sent again for external peer review.
  • Reject and resubmit: the paper is not suitable for publication in its current form but will be considered again if substantial revisions are made. When a paper is resubmitted it will be treated as a new submission.
  • Reject: the paper is not suitable for publication in the particular journal. This may be due to flaws in the paper or it may be that the paper is not interesting or novel enough and the editor needs to prioritise other work.

What next?

Listen to Professor Josef Koehrle, Editor-in-Chief of Endocrine Connections, detailing how to respond to reviewers’ comments. This was recorded at the International Congress of Endocrinology held jointly with the Chinese Society of Endocrinology's Annual Meeting in 2016.