PEER review has long been a standard for scientific publications in all disciplines. The primary goal of peer review is to ensure that high-quality articles are published. However, the benefits of peer review are not limited only to the publication. The profession and the individual reviewer also benefit. Reviewing manuscripts takes time and expertise and requires significant professional commitment. This article describes benefits of peer review and provides an overview of the process.
BENEFITS OF PEER REVIEW
For the Publication
Publications benefit from peer review in many ways. First, the review process helps ensure scientific rigor and well-written papers. It decreases the potential for personal bias in the selection of manuscripts for publication. And, it ensures professional relevance by validating that experts in the field agree that the manuscript is worthy of publication and dissemination.
For the Reviewer
Reviewers, especially those who are relatively inexperienced authors, also benefit from peer review. The process of peer review can help the reviewer improve her or his own research and writing skills. And, the reviewer's knowledge base may be furthered by an in-depth review of the new material. Serving as a reviewer may also lead to an editorial board appointment and wider recognition of an individual's knowledge and expertise.
For the Profession
The profession benefits from the review process because it promotes rigorous science and integrity in research and publishing. Publications are an important way of sharing information within a specialty and across disciplines. New information advances the profession, improves patient care and the healthcare system, and promotes cross-pollination of ideas and information.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF PEER REVIEWERS
The primary responsibility of the reviewer is to make a recommendation on the disposition of a manuscript. The recommendation may be to accept, accept with revision, or reject a manuscript. Manuscripts may be rejected because of poor writing, inadequate content, or research of questionable quality. They may also be rejected because the content is not appropriate for the target audience of the journal. In this case, if the manuscript is felt to be of good quality, the reviewer may recommend a more appropriate journal. Manuscripts may also be rejected because of ethical concerns such as plagiarism, duplicate publication, conflict of interest, or failure to protect study subjects.
To the Publication/Profession
The responsibility of the reviewer to the profession is to maintain and improve the quality and scientific rigor of professional publications. This includes looking for generalizability of findings and contributions to the profession's body of knowledge. An additional consideration is the current interest in a topic. Interest will be higher for a newly emerging subject area about which little has been published; it is more difficult to justify publishing a manuscript if there has already been extensive information published on that subject for the target audience of the journal. In this instance, the reviewer should look for new information or other enhancements that make the manuscript worthy of publication.
To the Author(s)
The reviewer must provide an unbiased opinion of the manuscript to the author (Alexander, 2005). If there is any concern that a conflict of interest exists, the reviewer should decline the review or contact the editor to discuss the situation prior to completing the review. All material reviewed should be held in the strictest confidence. A constructive review is honest and respectful, especially if the reviewer rejects the manuscript. Concerns should be clearly articulated with concrete suggestions for improvement of content and/or structure. Reviewers need to keep in mind that their unedited comments may be sent directly to the author. These comments should be phrased accordingly using objective, noninflammatory terms. The reviewer should also provide encouragement and identify the strengths of the manuscript, not just the weaknesses. Reviewers should also address clinical relevance, make suggestions for additions or deletions of material, offer additional expert information on the topic, and critique the manuscript's style and structure (Foster, 2002).
AGREEING TO REVIEW
Before agreeing to review a manuscript, there are several questions the reviewer should ask the editor (Table 1). If the journal uses double-blinded peer review, the integrity of that process must be maintained. A reviewer should never contact the author directly without first obtaining approval from the editor. Reviewers should not include any information that would identify them or their institution.
REVIEW ELEMENTS AND PROCESS
Once the reviewer has agreed to review the manuscript, the reviewer needs to commit a solid block of time to perform the review. A suggested process is to begin by reading the manuscript through for the first time while considering the timeliness of the topic, the appropriateness for target audience, and the consistency with the purpose of the journal. Next, the reviewer should reread the article and make suggestions regarding content changes. Then the reviewer should make grammar, style, figure, table, and reference suggestions. Tables 2–7 identify the specific questions to be answered by the reviewer when reviewing various aspects of the manuscript.
Finally, the reviewer should make a recommendation to accept or reject the manuscript. Manuscripts are frequently accepted with the caveat that revisions can be made. In this case, the reviewer will usually be asked to identify whether minor or major revisions are necessary. When manuscripts are rejected, the reviewer may be asked to suggest whether the journal should agree to review the manuscript again after a significant rewrite or whether the article should be rejected without the option of revision and future review unless it is submitted as a new manuscript. If the manuscript is rejected, the reviewer may suggest that it be referred to another, more appropriate journal. The manuscript, illustrations, and tables should be destroyed upon completing the review or, if a revision is anticipated, kept in confidence until the revision/review process is complete.
The purpose of this article was to describe the purposes and benefits of peer review and describe the process. Peer review demonstrates a commitment to the profession and an opportunity to contribute to the knowledge base. Interested individuals should contact journals in their areas of interest to volunteer their services
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