Short answer: the peer review process is important to make sure that quality research is published. However, just because a research paper went through a peer-review process, does not necessarily mean that it’s “quality research”. It does however show that the research you published was deemed as relevant by your peers in the scientific community.
The peer-review process has become an integretal part of the research process and in a sense shows that your work has been reviewed by the scientific community, at least a part of the scientific community that deals with your specific subject matter. The purpose of the peer review is to review that your research work is legit, that the research results are relevant (of course this also depends on what the journal editors deem as relevant, there is definitely some subjectivity involved here). Reputable journals will insist on ensuring that the quality of manuscripts remains high, and the research contains either new findings or that it somehow expans on the subject area in question. It is also important that the authors disclose any potential conflicts of interest (e.g. if you are being paid by an oil company to do a study about their product’s effects on the environment). The pool of reviewers are selected by the journal editors and they will often look at the previous work of the reviewers to ensure that they are experts in the field (or at the vary least have some deeper knowledge about the subject matter).
Most reputable publications, e.g., journals receive a large number of manuscripts (sometimes larger than needed) from scholars hoping to get published in their medium. However, many may be called but few will eventually be chosen. To maintain their integrity and credibility, these publications (some of whom are highly respected) have set quality standards that every researcher or scholar must meet if his or her article is to be published. To make sure that these standards are met, they have come up with a number of measures, one of which is peer review.
What is peer review?
In a scholarly sense, peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of rigorously scrutinizing (or reviewing) a draft copy of a researcher’s written work by experts (or peers) in the same field. The purpose of peer review is to ensure that those submitting manuscripts adhere to all the rules required for such scholarly papers in any particular academic discipline.
The peers are empowered to recommend whether any academic paper should be accepted outright, revised before acceptance, or rejected for publication in an academic journal, a monograph, or in the proceedings of an academic conference, among other mediums.
Types of peer review
Usually, peer review can be classified into two major types – closed peer review and open peer review. Virtually all forms of peer-reviews occur by electronic means seeing as the journals now are almost all electronic journals. Closed peer reviews are the most widely used albeit open peer reviews continue to attract more users. Lately, however, other types have evolved due to increasing studies in the area. Among these new entrants include transparent peer review, collaborative peer review, post-publication peer review, and cascading peer review.
Closed peer review
Here, the reviewers remain anonymous, both to the publisher (e.g., a journal) and to the paper’s author(s). Also, the author’s identity may remain anonymous to the reviewers throughout the review process. In such a scenario, reviewers wishing to know the author’s identity will only get such information after the paper is published. There are three kinds of closed peer review – single-blind peer review, double-blind peer review, and triple-blind peer review.
Single-blind peer review
In this kind of closed peer review, the reviewers’ identity is anonymous to the author but the author’s identity is not anonymous to the reviewers. Single-blind peer review is the most commonly used peer review at the moment. It is also referred to as single-anonymized peer review.
Double-blind peer review
A double-blind peer review is a form of closed peer review where the author is anonymous to the reviewers and the reviewers are also anonymous to the author. In other words, the identities of both parties are hidden from each other. It is sometimes known as double-anonymized peer review. This form of peer-review requires more of an considerable effort from the journal editors to make sure that both parties are anonomous to each other.
Triple-blind peer review
Here, the identities of the author, reviewers, and editors are all anonymous to each other. It is the least widely used form of closed peer review and is also known as triple anonymized peer review.
In open peer review, both the reviewers and the author(s) know each other’s identities throughout the review process. This type of peer review also permits the publication of both the comments and suggestions of the reviewers and the responses of the author alongside the reviewed paper. Often, an open review can also include feedback from a larger audience, such as an online forum.
Transparent peer review
This is a type of peer review where only the author’s identity is known. Also, the peer reviewers’ reports, authors’ responses, and editors’ decision letters are all published alongside the reviewed paper. It is similar to open review. However, unlike an open review, reviewers may remain anonymous if they wish.
Post-publication peer review
Post-publication peer review is different from all the other (pre-publication) types of peer review discussed above. This is because it takes place only after the un-reviewed manuscript has been published. To help enhance the paper’s readability and overall quality, some journals provide an exclusive section for updating the reviewers’ comments and suggestions.
Collaborative peer review
The collaborative type of peer review involves direct interaction or collaboration between the authors and the peer reviewers about matters arising from the paper under review. The main aim of such interactions is to harmonize any divergent views and make inputs that will improve the paper. Journals that use this peer review method often create a forum where both parties can interface.
There’s another form of collaborative peer review that does not involve the author but rather focuses on interactions between a couple of reviewers or more who analyze their opinions, smoothen any areas of friction, and subsequently come up with a unified review report.
Cascading peer review
Cascading peer review occurs when a paper that has been rejected by a journal after peer review is taken to another journal together with the previous reviewers’ reports. Slight procedural differences may exist depending on the type of journal. But basically, reviews can “cascade” down through one or more journals until the manuscript is eventually accepted for publication. It is also known as waterfall or transferable peer review.
Importance of peer review
- Peer review helps to ensure to validity and reliability of research.
- By ensuring that academic papers and publications are of high quality, peer review helps to enhance the integrity of the education sector
- It helps improve the standard of education (and society as a whole) through the promotion of high-quality research studies
- Improves the readability of journal articles and other scholarly works
- Hiring external reviewers saves journals the cost of employing a permanent team of editors for the different academic disciplines they publish
- Peer-reviewed journals are usually considered more reputable than non-peer-reviewed journals. One advantage of this is that they tend to be the preferred article submission mediums for the best researchers and scientists
- It is a form of stimulant for students, researchers, and other scholars whose manuscripts have been rejected. Such rejection is capable of inducing them to identify areas they need to improve
- Since peer reviews are an endorsement of high-quality academic work, it follows that they can be regarded as instruments for potential scientific breakthroughs and broadening of the existing stock of knowledge in different disciplines
Peer reviews are not peculiar to journals alone but also applicable to other areas such as grant applications, conference proceedings, and textbook publications. For grants, peer review helps to ensure that funds are allocated only for research proposals that have been verified by peers as viable. For conferences, it helps organizers to determine the papers that are most suitable for presentation. For textbooks, it ensures that only the most relevant materials are published for the benefit of the students, the academic community, and society as a whole
It helps check plagiarism and other forms of cheating, thus acting as a catalyst for original research
It is an intellectual activity that aggregates a variety of useful expert and unbiased opinions
Peer review is also applicable to both post-secondary and secondary classroom work. In such a scenario, it serves as a collaborative learning tool that learners use to assess each other’s writings before proceeding to provide feedback which can include suggestions to be used when revising reviewed writings. Thus, classroom peer review helps students develop a habit of working together in addition to stimulating their interest and teaching them how to make corrections.
Publications such as journals and conference proceedings use the peer review process to ensure that scholars submitting papers to them for publication adhere to all quality standards.
However, peer review has attracted some criticism in certain quarters. Research indicates that inconsistencies are still found in some peer-reviewed papers and that a good number of rejected manuscripts are eventually published elsewhere.
But any criticisms should be constructive since peer review is a human activity prone to lapses. Rather than discard it entirely, the occasional errors should serve as valuable lessons and opportunities to improve the process. This is because the education sector will be a lot poorer without it.