What’s the problem?
In the age of ‘fake news’ and widely-disseminated ‘alternative facts’, it is more important than ever that journals are trusted as sources of accurate information. This trust is enhanced by a robust peer review process that ensures the best possible report of research is published.
Everyone involved in peer review has expectations about what peer review could achieve and the most highly-regarded journals may well meet those expectations. Authors expect that reviewers will be impartial and judge their work fairly, but they also expect that reviewers will find any flaws in their methodology or conclusions (authors in good faith do not want to publish misleading papers). Reviewers expect that authors will provide all the information they need to assess their work and they expect editors to keep them informed about their decisions on papers. Ultimately, the people that peer review serves, the academic community and the general public, expect that the peer review process will be rigorous and will verify that conclusions are valid before the paper is published. They expect to be able to trust the information they read in the journal. To meet these expectations and earn this trust from readers, editorial offices must also be doing the best job that they can.
What can Wiley do to help?
At Wiley, we have spent the last 18 months thinking about what better peer review looks like and how to enhance peer review for the research communities we serve. We initiated a project to define essential areas of best practice for the whole peer review publishing process. We explored the different characteristics of the peer review process and called for further case studies from our editors. This research led to a preprint that defined five essential areas of peer review:
- Integrity: peer review establishes that the work is reliable and potentially reproducible.
- Ethics: peer review establishes that the work was conducted ethically.
- Fairness: peer review is objective and impartial.
- Usefulness: peer review is constructive and helpful.
- Timeliness: peer review provides timely feedback for authors.
For further reading on these five principles, please follow the links above.
Through discussing these principles with colleagues and reading research about peer review, we then created a set of peer review standards to serve as best practice recommendations. Our work is described in more detail in a peer reviewed article now available (and open access) in Learned Publishing. To help Editors self-assess and reflect on peer review practices and processes at your journals we have developed a Better Peer Review Self-Assessment that is freely available to journal teams in the form of an online, easy-to-use questionnaire. This has been tested with journal publishing managers and editorial office staff at Wiley and the feedback we have received has been very encouraging. If you would like to use it then please contact your publishing manager.
This was a really useful exercise to conduct on my journal. It was apparent that much of what we expect from our authors and reviewers is implicit. We should provide clearer guidance and direction to authors and reviewers to ensure a better, more consistent and more transparent peer review process for everyone. Leah Webster, Journal Publishing Manager
So far, over 70 journals have completed the self-assessment questionnaire, and we’d love it if more editors and society partners would be willing to reflect on their peer review processes and identify areas where their practices are great, and areas where there may be need for improvement. We’d love your feedback too!
Over the coming months we will be sharing thoughts from editors who have reflected on the self-assessment and what they have learned from the process. In the first article in this series, Integrity: An Essential Area for Better Peer Review, Laura Mitchell, an Associate Journals Editor for Pest Management Science and Polymer International at Wiley, addresses the topic of integrity as it relates to peer review.
Personally, after 11 years working in an editorial office, I started the self-assessment feeling rather complacent that the journals I manage would be meeting all the peer review “standards”, but I was surprised to find there were still areas where changes can be made to provide a better experience for authors, reviewers, and editors. As one editor pointed out when I shared the results with her, ‘there is always room for improvement’. The self-assessment takes about 45 minutes to work through carefully and you get an instant summary of your results. I encourage you to set aside a bit of time, make yourself a cup of tea, and explore and reflect on your peer review processes. Journals that strive to publish high quality content need to regularly review their editorial office practices and consider how they can provide better peer review. We’d really appreciate further feedback from Editors and Society partners as we strive to improve peer review for all parties involved in the process.