The peer review process is the backbone of academic publishing and the most important vehicle for quality assurance of published material.
By Christina Lenz and Sofie Wennstrom, Managing Editors at Stockholm University Press
Quality in peer review
This year’s peer review week is about quality. There are many stakeholders involved in the peer review process and all of them talk about the importance of quality. But do they mean the same thing and how do we value quality in relation to efficiency?
Together we define quality
Most researchers would certainly agree that the review process adds value to scholarly output and that the ethical guidelines should be followed. This is what peer review is about. However, is it a given that we all agree on what a good peer review is and how it should be done?
Practices in peer review vary depending on the academic field, and ‘quality’ may not always mean the same thing for authors, editors, the publishers and the readers. It is, thus, important that everyone involved in the peer review process needs to be aligned with the guidelines and best practices. A good quality publication should, therefore, clearly state what kind of review process they conduct, in terms of anonymity (e.g. is it single- or double-blind or open) and what should be included in the audit of the material.
The authors rely on the validation of their research via a rigorous review process made by peers for their career. However, the process is also in place to eliminate errors, plagiarism and bias, and the validation is equally important for the greater research community to make sure that they can reuse reliable research when continuing the work or present new findings.
Researchers within a discipline are contributing to the definition of quality in their field of science by their involvement with the peer review system is part of that discussion. The process of review is thus intrinsic in the evaluation of the system itself, ensuring a continuous discussion about what quality is within each community.
A thorough review takes time – especially for Books
One of the most common criticisms of the practice of peer review is that it takes a long time. This is especially evident when it comes to book manuscripts, as the mere size of the content is a lot to take on for the referees. To conduct a peer review of full manuscripts is also not always a common practice among book publishers. However, this is something that we take pride in doing at Stockholm University Press. We have a number of routines in place to reduce the time from submission to decision in several ways, like for example:
- reviewers are requested to return their comments about a manuscript within one to three months, depending on the length of the manuscript (and, of course, the current workload of each reviewer).
- reviewers will be getting clear instructions to give feedback on whether or not the book includes original ideas, if the theories has been properly used, and if methods or data has been properly applied. They should also comment on if the text addresses relevant scientific discussions that are valuable to the intended audience.
The quality assurance process still takes time. The average time from book proposal to final and published book is about a year, on average. Nevertheless, the strive to run an efficient editorial office is still one of the main goals for Stockholm University Press staff.
The Stockholm University Press Publishing Committee decided in December 2018 to considerably shorten the review times for all forthcoming books by allowing each Editorial Board to determine the quality of book proposals without an external review where possible. The manuscripts will, however, go through a full review with invited reviewers before they are approved for publication. The Press’ Peer Review Policy has thus been adjusted accordingly.
The quality of assessing book proposals is still following the same rigorous scheme as stated in the ethical guidelines provided by the Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE).
Join the discussion on how to build a trustworthy peer review process
The process of peer review is something that the press staff continue striving to improve, in close collaboration with the researchers involved in our Editorial Boards and all the invited reviewers. Therefore, we encourage everyone to get involved in discussing the importance and rigour of reviewing all year round, and not only during peer review week. Let’s keep the conversation going!
You can share your thoughts, ideas and experiences about peer review with us by, for example, writing a blog post, or if you would like us to do an interview with you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out in one of our public channels on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Earlier blog posts from Stockholm University Press about peer review on the same topic
A researcher driven publisher should give recognition for review #peerrevw16 part I, by Christina Lenz and Sofie Wennström. Posted on 20 September, 2016.
A researcher driven publisher should give recognition for review #peerrevw16 #recognizereview part 2, by Christina Lenz and Sofie Wennström. Posted on 21 September, 2016.
Peer Review – A recap. Posted on 12 September, 2017.
“Personally I have always seen double-blind peer-reviewing as the way to go to ensure complete honesty from reviewers who may be faced with the need to write an unfavourable review”. Posted on 22 September, 2016.
Stockholm University Press is celebrating Peer Review Week 2016. Posted on 19 September, 2016.
The Problem with Perfect – Making Peer Review More User-Friendly, by Sofie Wennström. Posted on 14 September, 2018.
”The threat is that the core of the publishing process is invisible and never recognised at any level”. Posted on 20 September, 2016.
”We need though to discuss more on what is meant with a ‘well done peer-review´”. Posted on 23 September, 2016.
Why Transparency is Important to Recognition for Review #PeerRevWk17, by Christina Lenz. Posted on 13 September, 2017.
Other links and more about #PeerRevWk19
Ask The Chefs: Peer Review Quality, by Ann Michael. Posted September 12, 2019, The scholarly Kitchen.
Recommendations from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Ethical Guidelines for peer reviewers (English version)