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Academic Publishing Demystified

What is peer review?

Until you've been through it at least once, the review process can be a confusing and opaque. Although there is a great deal of variation in how peer review works at different publication venues, the resources on this page can help you "see inside" the process before you submit. Resources on this page focus on scholarly journal publishing; other venues (e.g. University presses) will use slightly different processes.

Review process:

 

peer review process infographic

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This image is an adaptation of Types of Review by Jessica Lange. from McGill Library and is used under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 International license.

Peer Review Video

Editorial Review

When you submit an article for publication, typically the first person to take a look at it is a member of the journal's editorial staff. Typically, these people are looking to assess whether an article is within the scope of the journal (topic, length, format, etc) and that it is of sufficient quality to warrant peer review.

Sometimes, certain sections of publications are subject only to editorial review. This is more common for non-research articles such as reviews, commentary, letters, etc.

Peer Review

Experts in the subject area of your article will review your article and provide feedback on it. Depending on the journal and the availability of reviewers, it is typical for one to three external experts to review your paper.

There are a number of different types of peer review. It's good to know what type your target publication uses, and this information should be on the publication's website. The table below outlines some of the types.

Type of Review Description Benefits Drawbacks
Anonymous (single)* Reviewers know the names of the authors but the authors do not know who the reviewers are.
  • As the reviewer is anonymous, they may provide feedback without fear of a negative reaction.
  • May be able to use information about the author in their assessment.
  • Potential bias on the part of the reviewer. Reviewer may evaluate an article on the basis of the author rather than the article itself.
Anonymous (double)* Reviewers do not know the names of the authors nor do the authors know who the reviewers are.
  • Reduces potential reviewer bias.
  • Provides reviewer anonymity.
  • Reviewer does not have access to information about the author that may assist in completing the review.
Open review Names of both the authors and peer reviewers are available and the review may be made publicly-available.
  • Improved transparency; the reviewers may take their work more seriously/refrain from unnecessary negative feedback.
  • Reviewers may fear consequences for completing negative reviews.

* These terms were formerly referred to as single-blind and double-blind. Anonymous is now the preferred term.

Source: PKP School, Different Types of Peer Review

Peer Review: Your Questions Answered

Can I submit a work to more than one publication at a time?
No. This is to ensure that the labour involved in the review process is protected. If you are rejected from one publication, only then can you submit to a second.

How do I ensure that my work is anonymized prior to submitting?
If you're submitting to a venue that uses double anonymous peer review, you will be directed to anonymize your manuscript. Remove any references to yourself or to things that could identify you:

  • References to your own works in the text: (Author, 2021).
  • Bibliography: Author. 2021.
  • Any roles, collaborators, institutions, etc. 

You will also have to anonymize the 'hidden' metadata of your paper in the word processor you use.

Is there any guarantee that my work will be accepted?
No. Even for experienced authors, it is the peer review process that will decide whether or not a piece is accepted. It is normal for papers to be rejected multiple times, and for the whole process to take months or even years. This is why many authors will have more than one work in the publication "pipelline" at any one time.

How long does the peer review process take?
It can be a long time! One study found that the average time from submission to acceptance is five months, with delays of over a year being common. If the process seems very slow, feel free to follow up with an editor. You are also free to withdraw your item and submit elsewhere if the timeline is too long.

How do I address the feedback of peer reviewers?
You will be asked to make revisions. This is normal, and it's ok to have feelings (sad, grumpy, outraged) about this. Many experienced authors suggest waiting for several hours or days before addressing revisions. You should address every revision made by reviewers, but you don't have to adopt every revision. Some authors find it very helpful to use a chart to respond to revisions; the example below shows the difference between addressing and adopting suggestions.

Reviewer Comment Change Made (Y/N) Description of Changes Notes/Comments
You did not cite this really important work by Scholar, 2015 Y Citation to Scholar, 2015 has been added to page 3 where a brief discussion of this work has been added as well. Thank you for this excellent suggestion, the paper is stronger because of it.
You have not addressed how your study is impacted by readily available and less expensive electric cars N This is outside of the scope of the paper which is about the adoption of bicycles as a major source of commuter transport in Copenhagen. Although electric cars may have an impact on the transportation mix, the existing study did not study this issue and as such cannot be addressed in this paper.

Access a Google doc version of this table that you can adapt for your own use.

The reviewers have asked for so many changes! Is this normal?!
The volume, nature, and style of reviewer comments can vary hugely, but it is absolutely normal for authors -- even very experienced ones -- to receive a seemingly overwhelming amount of feedback. Using the techniques outlined above, including parsing each piece of feedback into a table, can help you manage the feedback.

I don't agree with the feedback I received. What do I do?
Sometimes you may receive contradictory feedback, or a response that does not fit the aims of your paper. This may happen for a variety of reasons: perhaps that section of your work was unclear, and the reviewer misunderstood you. Other times, the reviewer may not have accurate topic knowledge, or they were looking for a different type of paper altogether. Remember, you know your topic and you can push back against inappropriate feedback, as long as this is done respectfully. If feedback is very contradictory or just plain rude, you may wish to raise this issue with the editor.  Unacceptable reviewer comments include, use of swear words or profanity, discriminatory language or comments, and personal attacks on character or ability. You should contact the editor if you observe any of these kinds of remarks.

Licensing

Unless otherwise noted, content is this guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License