Peer review is the process by which experts advise editors on the value of scientific manuscripts submitted for publication. It confers legitimacy not only on scientific journals and the articles they publish but on the people who publish them. Peer review plays a critical role in determining the nature and level of plastic surgery. As a consequence, the process has an important impact on patient outcome. Peer review directly influences not only the content of the plastic surgery literature but also the process of providing the basis of plastic surgery operations, of pre- and postgraduate education, of modifying the composition of academic teaching, and of influencing the use or rejection of various plastic surgery innovations. We could say that peer reviewers protect readers from spending time reading low-quality papers and also protect patients from the noxious effects of unreliable research.
Good reviewing requires idealism. It is a process that takes time and effort to do well and for nebulous rewards, as most journals of the specialty do not pay reviewers. The primary reward is in the contribution the reviewer makes to research in plastic surgery. This idealism is reflected in the quality of the best reviews, which have a critical eye with a positive, creative attitude aimed at improving manuscripts and educating plastic surgeons. The best reviewers always offer useful advice to authors rather than summary judgments to editors.
Good reviewers can identify top quality reports that explicitly discuss the originality, importance, design, and interpretation of the study in detail and with references from within and outside the manuscript.
Expert reviewers focus on detecting technical and stylistic flaws within the manuscript, determining the novelty of the study, and making a recommendation of acceptance, rejection, or revision. They examine technical attributes as well as scientific quality, clarity of presentation, and ethical validity. Ideally, they do so in a manner consistent with ethical practices and journal guidelines. Reviewers donate substantial amounts of time and energy, frequently reviewing for multiple publications without remuneration. Reviewers must provide timely feedback to editors and, as consulted experts, are frequently the de facto judge of manuscript publication acceptance or rejection.
The motivation for reviewers to participate in the peer review process has also evolved with time. In the beginning, reviewers were motivated to contribute in return for prestige and fame. Today, this reward continues, augmented with the additional motive of determining the quality and direction of research in plastic surgery. With widespread acceptance of peer review in the scientific community, manuscripts are not held in high esteem if they do not first pass through this process.
Ideally, a review process that minimizes bias, promotes discussion, reduces time to publication, decreases variability in the peer review process, and increases overall quality of work without stifling new and radical ideas should be adopted. At the very least, training of reviewers in the nuances of how to review a manuscript and provide a useful critique to both the authors and the editors should be formally instituted for every journal. Designing a structured, standardized training course for reviewers would define protocols for reviewing, proper criteria to apply, and common pitfalls to avoid.
Contacting the Editorial Office
To reach the Editorial Office, please use the following contact information:
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Rod J. Rohrich, M.D., Editor-in-Chief
St. Paul’s Hospital
5909 Harry Hines Boulevard
Dallas, Texas 75235-8820