Introduction to peer review
What is peer Review?
Peer review is the most important part of the scientific publication process. Peer review is basically the process of engaging experts to review the articles submitted for publication in journals, this is done in order to validate the research and to enhance the quality of the articles that are published in the journal.
The peer review process is actually a demarcating line that decides what a research is and what is merely a hypothesis. This process screens the articles for their originality or work, their relevance to the previously published work and does the work meet the required standard so as to be published as a research article. The bottom line to conduct a peer review is to eliminate the possibility that science is just another opinion.
Types of peer review
In this type of review, the names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is the most common type by far. Points to consider regarding single blind review include:
Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions – the reviewers should not be influenced by the authors.
Authors may be concerned that reviewers in their field could delay publication, giving the reviewers a chance to publish first.
Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the authors’ work.
Both the reviewer and the author are anonymous in this model. Some advantages of this model are listed below.
Author anonymity limits reviewer bias, for example based on an author's gender, country of origin, academic status or previous publication history.
Articles written by prestigious or renowned authors are considered on the basis of the content of their papers, rather than their reputation.
Open peer review is an umbrella term for many different models aiming at greater transparency during and after the peer review process. The most common definition of open review is when both the reviewer and author are known to each other during the peer review process. Other types of open peer review consist of:
publication of reviewers’ names on the article page.
publication of peer review reports alongside the article, whether signed or anonymous.
publication of peer review reports (signed or anonymous) together with authors’ and editors’ responses alongside the article.
publication of the paper after a quick check and opening a discussion forum to the community who can comment (named or anonymous).
Many believe this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from following their own agenda, and encourage open, honest reviewing. Others see open review as a less honest process, in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism.
Peer review is an integral part of scientific publishing that confirms the validity of the manuscript. Peer reviewers are experts who volunteer their time to help improve the manuscripts they review. By undergoing peer review, manuscripts should become:
Robustness - peer reviewers may point out gaps in a paper that require more explanation or additional experiments.
Easier access and easy to read- if parts of your paper are difficult to understand, reviewers can suggest changes.
More useful - peer reviewers also consider the importance of your paper to others in your field.
Key Features of Peer-Review
Rigorous, constructive, efficient, and transparent
Two phases: independent review and interactive, collaborative review
Reviewers and the handling editor acknowledged on all published articles
Average time from submission to final decision: 90 days
Peer review is handled by active researchers, carefully appointed to our editorial boards according to strict criteria of excellence, who certifies the accuracy and validity of research with their names on the published article.
Our collaborative peer review maximizes manuscript quality while ensuring the rights of authors to submit their work for a rigorous, constructive, and transparent review process. Last, but not least, peer review needs to be efficient.
JoPC believes peer review must be centered on objective criteria for the validity and quality of the work presented. All submissions, including those that are part of themed Research Topic article collections, undergo the same rigorous review process.
Pillars of Peer-Review
There are three pillars of peer review at academic journals that can help to build a stronger foundation for quality research:
Clear peer review policies and standards
Peer review performance tracking
Transparent publishing and data sharing policies
1. Clear peer review policies and standards
The first pillar of quality peer review is establishing clear peer review policies and standards. Journal policies and standards ensure that all parties involved in peer review — editors, authors, and reviewers — know what is expected of them and that all manuscripts are handled in the same way. To ensure quality in peer review, consistency is key! Journals should have:
Established peer review policies: Peer review policies are a statement on the peer review guidelines and processes the journal follows for all manuscript submissions. Peer review policies should include an overview of the journal’s peer-review process (e.g. blindness, reviewers per manuscript, rounds of review allotted) and the anticipated peer review timeframe, as well as statements on publication ethics.
Standardized submission guidelines: Authors should know what is expected of them when preparing their manuscript for a journal, from layout requirements to the citation and data reporting standards they’re expected to follow. All of this information should be included in the author guidelines section of the journal website. Journals should also require authors to provide statements of originality and disclosures with their submission.
Standardized reviewer feedback: Journals should establish clear guidelines for peer reviewers to follow, including reminders of the duties of reviewers — to be objective, diligent, and confidential in their reporting — as well as a standardized reviewer feedback form. You can only expect reviewers to answer the questions that you ask them, required feedback forms ensure greater consistency and quality in referee reports.
All journal policies and standards must be actionable. For example, all of the process steps explained in a journal’s peer review policies must be carried out. So if it states all original research manuscripts will have two external reviewers, this should always be the case. Additionally, journals must have plans in place for enforcing all ethical policies and standards. If an article is found to have a conflict of interest or if there is an allegation of misconduct post-publication, the journal must have processes in place to address the situation. Additionally, if the journal requires authors to follow certain reporting guidelines, it should have a process in place to check for adherence.
2. Peer review performance tracking
The next pillar of quality peer review is performance tracking. Peer review quality depends on editors following journal policies and processes and reviewers completing reports in a timely and thorough manner. Journals should track peer review data in the following areas:
Editorial team performance metrics: Journals should track their editorial performance including the average manuscript acceptance rate at the editor- and journal-level, average days to decision at the editor- and journal-level, and average manuscripts per editor. These metrics can help journals ensure they are accepting manuscripts at a reasonable rate and that editors are working within the peer review timeline outlined in the journal’s policies without being overburdened. If you find that some editors are managing more manuscripts than others or that some editors are struggling to make manuscript decisions within the established peer-review timeframe you know you have some areas to work on.
Reviewer performance metrics: Journals should track reviewer performance metrics, including their average time to complete a review and number of reviews completed. Journals can use these metrics to know which reviewers are most reliable and spot if a reviewer may need a break from review requests.
Manuscript stages: Journals should also track data around each manuscript’s stage in review, including reviewers per manuscript and rounds of revisions to ensure each submission has enough reviewers and is moving through peer review efficiently and effectively
In addition to tracking peer review data, journals should also have processes for assessing the quality of the peer reviews they receive.
3. Transparent publishing and data sharing policies
Finally, the third pillar of quality peer review at academic journals — transparent publishing and data sharing policies — addresses key concerns around research biases and reproducibility. Journals can facilitate the reporting of null and negative results as well as research reproducibility by enabling and encouraging authors to share their manuscripts and data pre- and post-publication.
Peer review quality standards
The team is responsible for upholding the following quality standards:
Editors and reviewers are experts in the subject of the manuscript, with necessary expertise to evaluate the research by having established a sufficient research work or publication record on the same or related research area.
Editors and reviewers have no relationship to the authors and/or research that would affect the objectivity of the peer-review process
In case the peer review is ongoing, and it is discovered that editors or reviewers do not have the relevant expertise or have a conflict-of-interest, they can be revoked and replaced during review by the peer review team and/or the editor
In case editors or reviewers inappropriately request the citation of their own published papers or the journal's (coercive citations), they can be revoked and replaced during review
Reviewers thoroughly complete the subject-specific questionnaire provided to assess the scientific rigor, quality, and validity of the manuscript they are reviewing. Review reports are verified to ensure they provide a constructive assessment of the manuscripts' validity and quality to the authors.
Final editorial checks to verify that the peer-review process adhered to the quality standards, that the reviewers' and editor's concerns have been addressed, and that the manuscript is ready for publication
Only high-quality manuscripts that pass our acceptance criteria (listed above) are published.
In accepting a peer-review guidelines with JoPC, editors and reviewers agree to:
have the necessary expertise to judge the manuscript's quality, rigor, and validity
submit thorough, high-quality review reports
provide feedback in a timely manner, remaining responsive to collaborate with the authors
behave in a professional, ethical way and be constructive during interactions with the editors, authors, and editorial team
abide by ethical publishing practices and refrain from requesting the addition of citations of their own articles, or the journal's articles (coercive citations), unless valid and justifiable academic reasons are conveyed.
As part of our quality standards, such practices will be monitored and may result in editors and reviewers being revoked from assignments and editorial board membership.
If an editor or reviewer fails to disclose ongoing collaborations that would affect their ability to perform an objective review, or be discovered to have otherwise manipulated the peer-review process using fake identities, fake or deceptive review reports, or a ring of members to expedite manuscript review (peer-review ring), all their involvement in peer review will be terminated, and any ongoing submissions rejected. The issue will be raised with the researchers' institutions.
The journal's chief editors retain the right after a decision has been made by the handling editor to request further manuscript revisions, additional expert evaluation, and to overrule either acceptance or rejection. This decisional power is part of Frontiers' editorial policies as well as the terms and conditions, which all authors agree to before manuscript submission. All submissions to Frontiers are subject to the same processes and editorial policies.
In parallel, for manuscripts to remain under consideration for publication, the authors must:
remain engaged with the peer-review process and responsive for queries from the editors and reviewers.
behave in a professional way, use constructive, respectful language when communicating with the editorial board members, reviewers, or the editorial office, and collaborate effectively during the peer-review process.
Participants in the peer review will be removed from their assignments if they do not adhere to and meet these review standards. Manuscripts can also be rejected should the authors be unresponsive for an extended period of time (30 days) or use inappropriate, offensive language when communicating with the editorial board members or Frontiers' editorial office.
Full Peer Review
All article types undergo a full peer review, except for Editorials and Classifications. The full collaborative peer review process consists of two phases:
- Independent review
During the independent review phase, the reviewers assess the manuscript independently from each other and from the authors, according to a standardized review template. These templates are adapted to each article type
- Interactive review
During the interactive review phase, authors and reviewers can interact with each other through real-time comments in the discussion forum – with the aim of addressing all concerns about the manuscript. The handling editor oversees the review process, and, if required, the specialty chief editor can also enter the review forum.
Once a manuscript is submitted, our editorial office conducts a pre-screening for validation of research integrity and quality standards. If a manuscript meets JoPC's quality criteria, an editor from the relevant specialty section is invited to handle the manuscript's peer-review process. After a preliminary content check, the editor decides whether to send the manuscript for review or to recommend it for immediate rejection to the specialty chief editor. In the latter case, the specialty chief editor may confirm the handling editor's recommendation of immediate rejection due to the following reasons:
- Objective errors in the methods, applications, or interpretations were identified in the manuscript that prevent further consideration.
- Ethical issues were identified in the manuscript that prevent further review or publication
- The manuscript does not fulfill the standards established for the journal to be considered for publication (see full rejection criteria above).
The specialty chief editor may, nevertheless, override the handling editor's recommendation and decide that the manuscript deserves being reviewed before a final decision is made. In this case they will assign the manuscript to a new handling editor for another assessment. The handling editor invites experts to review the manuscript; most article types require at least two reviewers to complete a review. These reviewers can either be invited from the board of review editors or appropriately recruited among experts in the field.
Handling editors: reviewer invitations
If a manuscript is sent for peer review, the handling editor is accountable for inviting and overseeing expert reviewers. Most article types require at least two reviewers to complete a review. These reviewers can either be invited from the board of review editors or appropriately recruited among experts in the field. It is the prerogative of a handling editor to manage the reviewer recommendations of a manuscript. When the reviewers make their recommendation – to reject, revise, or accept the manuscript – the handling editor must validate this decision in line with our clearly defined acceptance and rejection criteria (see above). If the handling editor disagrees with the final recommendation of a reviewer, whether it is to reject or accept the manuscript, it is the handling editor who is afforded the right to seek further expert feedback and invite an additional reviewer(s). JoPC remains independent of this process and does not set or seek to influence acceptance or rejection rates. We are confident in the quality of our editors and peer-review process, whose proficiency has enabled JoPC's open access publications to become one of the most highly cited in the world.
Independent review phase
The reviewers are asked to submit the standardized independent review report via the online collaborative review forum within seven days after accepting the assignment. This is done independently by each reviewer. The handling editor is automatically notified as soon as each of the reports is submitted, along with the recommendation of that reviewer. If the reviewer recommends acceptance, they are able to immediately endorse the manuscript and finalize their review. Once all reviewers have submitted a report, the editor is responsible for activating the next phase, the interactive review, to release the review reports to the authors. If the editor would like to recommend rejection during the independent review phase, they can do so by activating the interactive review phase with major concerns, providing the authors with the reports and a unique opportunity for rebuttal during a defined timeframe
Once the editor activates the interactive review phase, authors are immediately notified and granted access to the collaborative review forum, where they are able to view the reviewers' comments. Authors are asked to respond and/or submit a revised manuscript within seven, 10, or 14 days, depending on the level of revisions requested by the editor. If the authors are unresponsive to multiple communication attempts, the editorial office will send a final email to the authors with a seven-day deadline to respond. Following this, the editorial office reserves the right to withdraw the manuscript from the review process. The editor can access and post comments in the collaborative review forum at any time. The editor also monitors the discussions occurring between authors and reviewers within the forum and ensures not only the timeliness, but also the constructiveness, of the participants' interactions. If a dispute arises at this stage, the editor acts as a mediator, working with all parties involved to resolve the issues and even inviting new reviewers for further opinions if needed. If the disagreement persists, the specialty chief editor is then invited to enter the interactive review phase, assess the situation, and take a final decision as to whether the review should be ended by rejecting the manuscript or continued – potentially, but not necessarily, with a new handling editor and set of reviewers. When a disagreement cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of a reviewer, they can choose to recommend rejection of the manuscript. The handling editor is then informed of the rejection recommendation and the reason. A reviewer can also withdraw from the review at any time. In both cases of rejection recommendation and withdrawal, the reviewer will no longer participate in the review forum. The editor is informed of the reviewer recommendations and may choose to further recommend rejection to the chief editor, or invite other reviewers to receive additional expert opinions. If a reviewer submitted an independent review report prior to withdrawal or rejection recommendation, the report will be maintained in the review forum for participants to access throughout the review process. It is not removed or lost.
During this phase, a manuscript may be rejected at any point for the following reasons:
● Objective errors in the methods, applications, or interpretations were identified in this manuscript that prevent further consideration
● Ethical issues were identified in this manuscript that prevent further review or publication
● The manuscript does not fulfill the standards established for the journal to be considered for publication
● The manuscript could not be sufficiently revised by the authors to address the concerns raised by the reviewers or editor during the review process
● Other reasons that meet the rejection criteria (listed above). The review is complete only once all reviewer and editor comments have been satisfactorily addressed by the author.
Author triggered arbitration
If a dispute arises regarding the rejection of a manuscript, the authors may rebut the decision and trigger an arbitration. Authors should provide enough information as part of their rebuttal so that an informed decision can be made on whether the grievance is valid. As a first step, the editorial office will arbitrate. They may discuss the case with editors and reviewers to try and resolve the dispute, depending on the peer review stage where rejection occurs and the reasons for rejection. At the discretion of the editorial office, independent experts may also be called for confidential arbitration evaluation.
Depending on case complexity, authors should expect the arbitration process to take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. While a decision can take a significant amount of time, authors should anticipate receiving updates every 2–4 weeks. Should an arbitration rule in favor of the authors, the editorial office will consider reinstating a manuscript to the stage where the rejection occurred and/or restarting the peer review process with a newly appointed editor and/or reviewer(s). A manuscript will remain rejected if the arbitration rules that any of the above rejection criteria are met. While arbitration for a rejected manuscript is ongoing, authors should not submit a revised version of the manuscript.
Reviewer triggered arbitration
Reviewers are also entitled to trigger an arbitration if they judge that the authors are reluctant to make required changes as part of peer review. Reviewers may of course recommend rejection at any time or withdraw from the review process if they disagree with the arbitration ruling (in both cases their identity remains undisclosed). The withdrawal of a reviewer requires the recruitment of a replacement, which slows down the peer review process; therefore, authors are encouraged to cooperate as much as possible in addressing the concerns of the reviewers involved with their manuscript. Should an arbitration rule in favor of the authors, then the manuscript can be accepted even if there was a previous rejection recommendation.
Handling, topic, and review editors
Handling (associate) editors, review editors, and external reviewers are requested to fill a questionnaire before taking on an assignment to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Research Topic editors are also asked to complete the questionnaire upon assignment to a manuscript under their Research Topic. If you can answer yes to any of the questions below, JoPC considers this to be a potential conflict of interest. Such potential conflicts might be between the editor and authors, the reviewers and authors, or the reviewers and editors. Editors are recommended to invite independent reviewers from a broad range of institutional and geographic locations to promote diversity of thought and to ensure an objective and fair peer review process. If you have any doubt about whether a relationship or an interest qualifies as a conflict of interest, it is always better to disclose this potential conflict such that editors and the JoPC editorial office can determine whether it necessitates disclosure of the article, or whether an alternate reviewer or editor should be assigned. Editors must report actual or potential conflicts of interest to the journal's editorial office. Reviewers must report actual or potential conflicts of interest both to the journal's editorial office and the editor handling the manuscript. In case of doubt, please contact your journal's office by email. You should provide the details of the situation and the potential conflict(s) that you would like to report.
Potential conflicts of interest: editors and reviewers
○Are any of the authors a spouse or significant other, a member of the same family, or a very close personal friend?
○ Review editors should also not be a member of the same family as the handling editor.
○ Are you currently hosting or have hosted a JoPC Research Topic with any of the authors within the past 2 years?
○ Are you currently collaborating or have you collaborated on a research project or a publication with any of the authors within the past 2 years?
○ Are you currently collaborating or have you collaborated with any of the authors as an advisor or in any other direct supervisory capacity in the past 5 years?
○ Are you currently collaborating or have you collaborated with any of the authors as a student or in any other direct subordinate capacity in the past 5 years?
Note: Review editors should not accept assignments if they have a close professional relationship with the handling editor, which in their view could affect the objectivity of the review.
○ Are you affiliated with the same institution as any of the authors? If so, has this resulted in interactions, collaborations, or mutual interests with the authors that would compromise your impartiality in conducting this review?
○ Are you a current member of a committee or department that coincides with an affiliation with any of the authors?
○ Do you have a business or professional partnership with any author? ○ Do you have financial interests or business relations with any organization involved in this research or in the preparation of the manuscript?
○ Do you have any financial interest or competing interests in the content of the manuscript that might affect your ability to perform an objective review?
External reviewers at JoPC should hold a PhD or an equivalent degree, or the equivalent number of years to a recognized qualification, in the relevant field of research. It is also encouraged that all external reviewers have sufficient experience in scientific publishing, either from the perspective of an author or reviewer. JoPC does wish to assist in the development of early career researchers and in offering them exposure to the peer review process. To foster this development, we do allow early career researchers to collaborate in the review process with a senior researcher. Please contact the JoPC editorial office for any questions on how to proceed in such cases. External reviewers are subject to the same conflicts of interest restrictions as JoPC review editors, and must report actual or potential conflicts of interest both to the journal's editorial office and the editor handling the manuscript.
Malpractice and misconduct
JoPC will investigate allegations of misconduct both before and after publication. Corrections or retractions will be published if necessary, in order to maintain the integrity of the academic record. Our research integrity team should be contacted immediately on suspicions of misconduct. JoPC also investigates allegations made on social media or other relevant websites as we become aware of them.