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Peer review process

Introduction to peer review

Peer review is a process by which independent experts in the field evaluate the validity, significance and originality of the manuscript to help the authors improve their work and the editor to make a decision on publication.

The purpose of peer review is to ensure that journals publish sound science. This benefits the entire scientific community.

Sometimes scientists find the peer review process intimidating because it can lead to the rejection of their manuscript. Keep in mind that revisions and improvement are part of the publication process and are intended to raise the quality of your manuscript.

Peer review is a positive process
Peer review is an integral part of scientific publishing that confirms the validity of the science reported. Peer reviewers are experts who volunteer their time to help improve the journal manuscripts they review-they offer authors free advice.

Through the peer review process, manuscripts should become:

  • More robust: Peer reviewers may point out gaps in your paper that require more explanation or additional experiments.
  • Easier to read: If parts of your paper are difficult to understand, reviewers can tell you so that you can fix them.
  • More useful: Peer reviewers also consider the importance of your paper to others in your field.

Of course, in addition to offering authors advice, another important purpose of peer review is to make sure that the articles the journal eventually publishes are of high quality.

Editorial rejection

There are two main reasons that a manuscript can be rejected. A manuscript can be rejected either before or after peer review.

Lack of scientific soundness or ethics:

  • Theories, concepts, or conclusions presented in the manuscript are not fully supported by the data, arguments, and information
  • Poor experimental design, or faulty or insufficient statistical analysis
  • Plagiarism
  • Lack of appropriate ethical approval, participant consent or permissions for the use of data or materials

These problems mean that your manuscript is not suitable for publication in its current form and a lot of work is needed to improve it.

Lack of novelty or poor presentation:

  • No proper structure
  • Lack of sufficient detail for readers to fully understand the authors' analysis
  • No new science
  • No clear explanation of which parts of the findings are new science, versus what was already known
  • No proper reference to the latest literature on the topic
  • Not enough detail about materials and methods to allow other scientists to repeat the experiment
  • No clear descriptions or explanations of:
  • Hypotheses tested
  • The experimental design
  • Sample characteristics and descriptive statistics
  • Poor language quality

When revising your manuscript and responding to peer review comments:

  • Prepare a detailed point-by-point response to all concerns raised by the editor and reviewers
  • Describe the revisions to your manuscript in your response letter
  • Perform any additional experiments or analyses the reviewers recommend (unless you feel that they would not make your paper better; if this is the case, explain why in your response letter)
  • Provide a polite and scientific rebuttal to any points or comments you disagree with
  • Differentiate between reviewer comments and your responses in your letter
  • Clearly show the major revisions in the text, either with a different color text, by highlighting the changes, or with Microsoft Word's Track Changes feature
  • Return the revised manuscript and response letter within the allocated time period or request an extension of the deadline

Reviewer comment:
"In your analysis of the data you have chosen to use a somewhat obscure fitting function (regression). In my opinion, a simple Gaussian function would have sufficed. Moreover, the results would be more instructive and easier to compare to previous results."

Response in agreement with the reviewer: "We agree with the reviewer's assessment of the analysis. Our tailored function does make it impossible to fully interpret the data in terms of the prevailing theories. In addition, in its current form, we agree it would be difficult to tell that this measurement constitutes a significant improvement over previously reported values. We have therefore re-analyzed the data using a Gaussian fitting function."

Response disagreeing with the reviewer: "We agree with the reviewer that a simple Gaussian fit would facilitate comparison with the results of other studies. However, our tailored function allows for the analysis of the data in terms of the Smith model [Smith et al, 1998]. We have added two sentences to the paper (page 3, paragraph 2) to explain the use of this function and Smith's model."

Note that in both comments (agreeing and disagreeing) the author is polite and shows respect for the reviewer's opinion. Also, in both circumstances the author makes a change to the manuscript that addresses the reviewer's question.

Remember, the reviewer is probably a highly knowledgeable person. If their suggestion is incorrect, it is likely because they misunderstood your manuscript, indicating that you should make your text clearer.

Use the Response letter template from Edanz to make writing your reply easier.