Journals use peer review to both validate the research reported in submitted manuscripts, and sometimes to help inform their decisions about whether or not to publish that article in their journal.
If the Editor does not immediately reject the manuscript (a “desk rejection”), then the editor will send the manuscript to two or more experts in the field to review it. The experts—called peer reviewers—will then prepare a report that assesses the manuscript, and return it to the editor. After reading the peer reviewer's report, the editor will decide to do one of three things: reject the manuscript, accept the manuscript, or ask the authors to revise and resubmit the manuscript after responding to the peer reviewers’ feedback. If the authors resubmit the manuscript, editors will sometimes ask the same peer reviewers to look over the manuscript again to see if their concerns have been addressed. This is called re-review.
Some of the problems that peer reviewers may find in a manuscript include errors in the study’s methods or analysis that raise questions about the findings, or sections that need clearer explanations so that the manuscript is easily understood. From a journal editor’s point of view, comments on the importance and novelty of a manuscript, and if it will interest the journal’s audience, are particularly useful in helping them to decide which manuscripts to publish.
Will the authors know I am a reviewer? Will I know who the authors are?
Traditionally, peer review worked in a way we now call “closed,” where the editor and the reviewers knew who the authors were, but the authors did not know who the reviewers were. In recent years, however, many journals have begun to develop other approaches to peer review. These include:
- Closed peer review—where the reviewers are aware of the authors’ identities but the authors’ are never informed of the reviewers’ identities.
- Double-blind peer review—where neither author nor reviewer is aware of each other’s identities.
- Open peer review—where authors and reviewers are aware of each other’s identity. In some journals with open peer review the reviewers’ reports are published alongside the article.
The type of peer review used by a journal should be clearly stated in the invitation to review letter you receive and policy pages on the journal website. If, after checking the journal website, you are unsure of the type of peer review used or would like clarification on the journal’s policy you should contact the journal’s editors.