Celebrating Peer Review Week 2018

Peer Review Week 2018


This week, 10-15 September 2018, is international Peer Review Week. Now in its fourth year, the annual one-week event raises awareness of the importance of peer review, quality peer review practices, and related trends and issues. This year, the theme is "Diversity in Peer Review". Educational events, discussions, and blogs are being organized by publishers, scholarly societies, and universities to promote diversity and inclusion in peer review. Follow @PeerRevWeek on Twitter (topic tags #PeerRevWk18, #PeerReviewWeek18 and #PeerRevDiversityInclusion).


Need for peer review training

It is globally accepted that peer review at some point in the publishing cycle is better than no peer review at all, in terms of quality control and manuscript improvement. To sustain this model, researchers need to routinely review other researchers' work, and researchers need to somehow learn peer reviewing skills. This is even more important, given the increasing number of manuscripts being submitted and published each year. Yet, peer review training is rarely provided by publishers or universities, and most universities do not recognize reviewing as a valued research skill or rewardable academic activity.
Fortunately, a recent peer reviewer survey by Publons shows that peer reviewers are often self-motivated to review and are aware of areas in need of training:
Most frequent reasons given by 11,934 reviewers for reviewing:
(1) It is part of my job as a researcher
(2) I want to do my fair share / reciprocate for reviews of my work
(3) To keep up to date on the latest research trends in my field
(4) To ensure the quality and integrity of research published in my field
(5) As a voluntary service to my field / research community
(6) Develops personal reputation and career progression
(7) To improve my own writing skills
(8) To build relationships with journals/editors
Training topics identified by 13,619 reviewers as being most beneficial:
(1) Constructing a peer review report
(2) Understanding the peer review process
(3) Reviewing a methodology
(4) Managing bias, conflicts of interest, plagiarism, and misconduct
(5) Reviewing data, figures, and results
(6) Reviewing qualitative research articles
(7) Reviewing quantitative research articles
(8) How to become a peer reviewer
(9) Performing a statistical review
(10) Reviewing a clinical paper
Publons provides a free online peer reviewer course, Publons Academy, which has a theory part and a practical  part. The course requires finding a mentor to help with peer review report practice. By the end of the course, trainees who pass all the modules and practice sessions can be added to the database of active peer reviewers in the Publons system, which is searched by journal editors. The database also gives an opportunity to reviewers to record their peer review activity (depending on the format allowed by journals).
There is also a free online American Chemical Society Peer Review Training course called ACS Reviewer Lab, which can be used by non-chemists.
For medical journals, the BMJ (British Medical Journal) has free online reviewer training materials for its clinical peer reviewers.
Edanz Group gave two free webinars during last year's Peer Review Week: How to Peer Review a Paper and How to Write a Peer Review Report. Both are archived on the Edanz Academy website.
Another way of self-learning about peer review is to read public peer review reports in journals using an open-report model. For example, the F1000 Research platform for life science research uses a post-publication open-report and open-identity (named  reviewers) model of peer review. The public review reports allow readers to see how a paper was improved, as well as the content, tone, and style that peer reviewers use. A similar peer review model is used by an increasing number of funders and institutions (eg, via the Open Research Central platform).

Need for diversity

There is a global shortage of peer reviewers, and, according to the 2018 Publons "Global State of Peer Review" report, there is an under-representation of peer reviewers from non-Western and emerging economies. Presumably, the report mainly refers to peer review of manuscripts in English, so being a "fluent" reader and writer of academic English is clearly a necessary researcher skill, in addition to learning international peer review ethics and etiquette. The report found that researchers in emerging economies are less likely to be invited to be peer reviewers, but they accept the invitation and complete the review faster; however, their reviews are also shorter.

Journals need to actively encourage diversity in their editorial boards and peer reviewer pools. Doing so would reduce bias (or perceived bias) and possibly further improve quality in the peer review process. For the same reasons, medical journals are also beginning to involve patients in their peer review process.

A success story was featured in a blog on how the editor-in-chief of The Clinical Neuropsychologist in 3 years achieved proportional representation on her editorial board in terms of gender and non-Caucasian professionals. Similar strategies could be used to increase diversity (composition of people in the database) and also inclusion (valued opinions and participation) among peer reviewers, such as forming a committee to identify and invite specific people as editors/reviewers, announcing changes, and personally encouraging the new members. Training of in-house staff in fairly assigning manuscripts to peer reviewers would also be needed.

Diversity could refer to the different flavors of peer review (such as single/double/triple blind, open identity, open report, collaborative review), which authors and reviewers need to be familiar with. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has some relevant free resources on peer review ethics and about peer review models and ethics of peer review reports. Potential peer reviewers need to be familiar with the different types of review or offer their services only to those journals that use the peer review types they are comfortable with.

Another angle of diversity is sex/gender diversity in what the reviewers are reviewing (ie, manuscripts). Being transparent in the sex or gender of the populations being studied is needed for accuracy, because there may be biological differences in responses to treatments that need to be reflected in practice and policy guidelines. To promote gender- and sex-sensitive reporting and communication in science, the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) has published the SAGER Guidelines (Sex and Gender Equity in Research). These guidelines aim to increase awareness among authors, and also among peer reviewers when reviewing papers, to avoid overgeneralizing findings and any reporting bias. The principles apply to the reporting of human research participants, animals, and even cell and tissue cultures, and to all sections of a research manuscript.


Peer reviewer profiles

Incentives and assistance for peer reviewing in general, and specifically for minorities, could be improved by both publishers and institutions. Institutions could reward peer review and editorial board participation, while encouraging mentorship of early-career researchers in reviewing and writing peer review reports. Publishers and journals may list reviewers annually, highlight or profile high-performing reviewers, send thank-you letters or certificates, offer continuing education points, offer free access to websites, or reduce author fees for future article submissions. Journals could offer feedback on the first few reports from new peer reviewers, or perform free language editing of reports from peer reviewers for whom English is not their first language.

The Publons peer reviewer platform attempts to raise the status of peer review and give credit to reviewers, including an annual peer reviewer award scheme. The first step in taking part is for peer reviewers (and journal handling editors /academic editors, too) to create a reviewer profile page as a mini-CV and as a personal record of all peer review activities. Several developments will help this endeavor, as well as promote transparency in publishing.

The first is the addition of peer review activities to ORCiD profile pages. Researchers can register for an ORCiD account individually (for free) or through their institution's paid subscription, as a way to uniquely identify themselves as a researcher and to have an online page to list all their academic achievements. It is a convenient way to record and  keep track of all research publications, which can help prove one's area of expertise when first applying to be a peer reviewer (journals usually expect reviewers to have published previously). ORCiD users can now also list their peer review activities, which may help when applying to be a peer reviewer at another journal. Indeed, some journals are beginning to require authors and reviewers to identify themselves via ORCiD numbers.

The second development is the linking between ORCiD and Publons. Publons verifies peer review contributions with journals, so linking with ORCiD will allow reviewers to automatically display those verified records on their growing academic CV in ORCiD.

The third development is the assignment of digital object identifiers (DOIs) to peer review reports by Crossref. A growing number of journals now publish peer review reports online. By having DOIs, peer review reports are stably archived, citable, linkable to the reviewed articles, and also linkable to ORCiD and Publons records. The cross-talk between Crossref, ORCiD, and Publons (and potentially many other platforms) should increase the opportunities for peer reviewers to gain the credit they deserve, while contributing to transparency in research publishing. These developments and the increasing reputation of peer reviewing as a key academic and research activity should hopefully encourage more researchers worldwide to offer quality peer review services in the future.


Dr Trevor Lane
Education and Engagement Consultant
Edanz Group



Note: Edanz Group is a corporate associate member of COPE, and Dr Trevor Lane is an individual associate member and Council Member of COPE; he peer reviewed the Publons Academy peer review course during its development.


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