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01/19/2017

Peer Reviewing: Paying it Forward

by Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD and Bela Fishbeyn, MS

As an associate editor and executive editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, we identify and recruit peer reviewers to review manuscripts that have been submitted for publication. These individuals are valued for their expertise and willingness to review others’ work and evaluate it for possible publication. Peer reviewing is part of the service academics do and are not compensated for this important work. We recognize that the people who provide anonymous peer review are the backbone of scholarship. Without them, we would not have scholarly journals or new knowledge. Of course, the peer review process is not flawless. Back in 2006, the journal Nature published an extensive set of articles that debated the merits and demerits of the peer review process. As interesting as this debate is, our goal here is more prosaic. As editors who depend upon the generous service of peer reviewers, we have some suggestions on how to improve the process for current and future reviewers (and for the editors who work with them):

  • When invited to review, read the abstract in the e-mail and then provide a response as soon as possible. If you can serve as a reviewer, wonderful. If you cannot, simply let the journal know immediately. (Our rule of thumb is to respond as soon as you get the email. Go with your initial thought. If you think you don’t have the time to do the review, decline the invitation, guilt-free. Don’t wait. This gives editors ample time to seek out other reviewers.)
  • If you cannot serve as a reviewer, providing names of alternative reviewers is always helpful and welcome.
  • When writing a review, remember that someone has taken the time to write a manuscript. Provide constructive feedback. Frank critique is welcome, but unduly harsh or nasty feedback is not. (If the paper is an outright rejection, it’s even more important to provide clear feedback).This helps both the editors in making a judgment regarding a paper as well as for the authors themselves in improving their work.
  • As a peer reviewer, think of yourself as an anonymous mentor to a colleague. The author may be a junior scholar who is just getting their career started. Good peer reviewing is good mentoring.
  • In your review, indicate whether you think the manuscript might be a good fit for the journal.
  • Provide enough feedback so that the author(s) can truly improve their paper. Although there is no need to write a lengthy review (we’ve encountered reviews as long as the paper itself!), it is important to make sure your review is thorough enough.
  • Most journals, including AJOB, have two sections in which reviewers can write their feedback – confidential comments to the editorial team and comments for the author(s). You’re welcome to make these comments identical to the author comments section, but if they differ, please make sure that the nature of your comments match. We often receive reviews that contain generally positive feedback for the authors but negative feedback in the confidential section, which can be misleading to both editors and authors.
  • Make sure you submit your review by the deadline indicated. For instance, AJOB provides reviewers a month to review a manuscript. Submitting it even sooner is always welcome. If you are running behind, keep the editorial team informed so they can plan around it and keep authors informed of any delays.
  • Let the editorial team know if you’re willing to review a paper again if the paper needs to be revised and resubmitted.
  • Let the editorial team know if there’s anything they can do to help with your review – this includes help with technical errors, sending additional information such as author responses to reviewer comments, and the like.
  • If you’ve had a paper published by the journal, please reciprocate by making yourself available to review new manuscripts. Someone took the time to review your paper in order to get it published. Pay it forward by reviewing others’ work.
  • Although the peer review process can be tedious, we always appreciate the time and effort it takes for a reviewer to read and comment on someone else’s work. Part of being a good academic citizen is participating in this process as both an author and as a reviewer.

We look forward to another year of reviewing manuscripts and working with reviewers to ensure AJOB publishes the most interesting and engaging work in bioethics. If you would like to review for our journal, just let us know: editor at bioethics dot net.

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