Peer review: part of the job? #RecognizeReview #PeerRevWk16

As you are no doubt aware it’s Peer Review week (19 – 25 September 2016) this week. Peer reviewing is something that is so important to us at Policy Press both in terms of helping us in commissioning and shaping our books and our journal content and ensuring that we continue to meet the highest possible standards in publishing quality research.

In today’s guest blog Evidence and Policy Associate Editor Kathryn Oliver shares her thoughts on the importance of peer review and why being a peer reviewer is central to her practice as an academic…

Kathryn Oliver

Kathryn Oliver

I’ve been part of an academic community for 15 years now – and in that time have learned from many hundreds, if not thousands of colleagues, both in person and in print.

Reading and writing together is how most scholars interact, and what helps science of all kinds advance. Writing and publishing papers is what supports academic and research careers – and it’s all totally dependent on peer review.

Much has been written about academic publishing models. Some call for open source publishing; others for post-publication review; still others for journal boycotts, especially after corruption scandals. But the quality of our work is best assessed by our peers – like democracy, it’s the least worst system.

“I’ve often fantasised about a system where academic journals pay peer reviewers for the work they do…”

I’ve peer reviewed grants applications, REF submissions, PhD applications and papers. I was lucky enough to receive a thorough training in critical appraisal which meant I had the skills to assess the quality of work through a relatively structured process. I’ve often fantasised about a system where academic journals pay peer reviewers for the work they do, but for now, all this work is, apparently, unpaid. It is true it’s not in my job description.

So why do peer review?

I choose to see peer review as part of my scholarly duties. And more than duties – it’s a way of keeping in touch with my academic community, and giving something back to all those editors, readers and reviewers who have helped me learn how to write more succinctly, more accurately, less boringly.

We all know the pain of getting back the dreaded peer review comments, and of course there are good and bad reviewers out there, but a good review helps you develop as a writer and as a researcher; points you to literature which is relevant and useful; saves you from unnecessary duplication of work and introduces you to new method and theories.

At its most positive, peer review is a constant learning process, not a battle. At the very least, reviewers help to maintain high scholarly standards, and advance academic debates in your field.

These days I review about a paper a month – it takes me an hour or so to read the paper, make notes, and a few minutes to write up my report for the editors and the authors. Some colleagues do more, some do less.

“…apart from building up your brownie points, I often find it an interesting and positive experience myself”

There’s no doubt that it is another task for already busy academics, and many simply don’t respond to requests (despite still publishing themselves). But the recent suggestion to rank reviewers by a journal seems a little extreme. I think the Carrot of Good Karma is incentive enough.

I now sit on the editorial board of Evidence and Policy, and am responsible for co-ordinating peer review requests, and making editorial decisions based on reviewer recommendations. Every time I invite a reviewer I wish we had some way of rewarding their time – but for now, gratitude will have to do. And, as I say, we all rely on others to review our work – apart from building up your brownie points, I often find it an interesting and positive experience myself.

Dos and don’ts

  • 1) If you’ve never done a peer review before, get in touch with editors or register online with journals – you can be often be selected through your personal keywords. Ask more experienced colleagues or supervisors if they will pass on the next relevant request they get to you. The first few I did took 6, 8 hours – I’ve learned what to look for now. Practice helps!
  • 2) Always read the journal scope and guidelines – remember that while you are making ((hopefully constructive) comments for the author(s), you are also mainly helping an editor to make a decision about whether a paper should be published in that particular journal. I usually write a 2-3 sentence note to the editor explaining my recommendation, and raising the key editorial decisions to be made. We can’t all be experts in every journal, but making it clear to the editor what needs to be judged is a big help.
  • 3) If you have questions about the paper, or the process, or if you just want an extension – get in touch with the editor. Most would much rather have a brief email exchange than wait for weeks for you to respond with a half-hearted effort
  • 4) Be firm, be fair, and imagine you’re on the receiving end. It’s a process, not a judgement.
  • 5) Finally, don’t accept all requests. I take the most relevant where I think I really have something to say. Pass the others on, or tell the editor where to look – we’re always grateful for anyone who saves us a few minutes googling for alternatives.

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#RecognizeReview #PeerRevWk16

If you want to find out more about Peer Review week including this year’s theme, Recognition for Review, check out the Peer Review website here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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