Reviewers play an important role in ensuring the integrity of the scholarly record. The peer review process depends largely on the trust and willing participation of the scholarly community and requires that everyone involved behaves responsibly and ethically. Peer reviewers play a central and critical part in the peer review process but may come to the role without any guidance and be unaware of their ethical obligations. Journals have an obligation to provide transparent policies for peer review, and reviewers have an obligation to conduct reviews in an ethical and accountable manner. Clear communication between the journal and the reviewers is essential to facilitate consistent, fair and timely review. It is hoped they will provide helpful guidance to researchers, be a reference for editors and publishers in guiding their reviewers, and act as an educational resource for institutions in training their students and researchers.
Peer review, for the purposes of these guidelines, refers to reviews provided on article submissions to the JANS. The model of peer review will also influence elements of the process.
JANS Model of Peer Review
There are different types of models of peer review, all of which have various advantages and disadvantages. See the COPE document who ‘owns’ peer reviews? (section titled ‘models of peer review’) (https://doi.org/10.24318/rouP8ld4) for an explanation of various peer review models. Before agreeing to undertake the peer review, it is beneficial to be aware of the peer review model that the journal uses. The table below identifies key elements of the model used by JANS in peer review. Based on the JANSs model of peer review, reviewers should understand their responsibilities related to confidentiality of the process and ownership of the reviewed product.
Table: JANS model of peer review
Editors mediate all interactions between reviewers and authors
Peer reviews are not published
Review facilitated by a journal
Review owned by a journal
Being A Reviewer
1. Professional responsibility
Authors who have benefited from the peer review process should consider becoming peer reviewers as a part of their professional responsibilities. Anyone interested in becoming a reviewer should look for the journal guidelines on peer review and follow any requirements posted. To assign appropriate reviewers, editors must match reviewers with the scope of the content in an article to get the best reviews possible. Therefore, potential reviewers should provide journals with personal and professional information that is accurate and a fair representation of their expertise, including verifiable and accurate contact information. It is important to recognize that impersonation of another individual during the review process is considered serious misconduct (Please see COPE Case 12-12: https://cope.onl/case-review-2). When approached to review, only agree to review if you have the necessary expertise to assess the article and can be unbiased in your assessment. It is better to identify any gaps in your expertise when asked to review.
2. Competing interests
Ensure you declare all potential competing, or conflicting, interests. If you are unsure about a potential competing interest that may prevent you from reviewing, do raise this. Competing interests may be personal, financial, intellectual, professional, political, or religious in nature. If you are currently employed at the same institution as any of the authors or have been recent (e.g., within the past 3 years) mentors, mentees, close collaborators, or joint grant holders, you should not agree to review. In addition, you should not agree to review an article that is very similar to the one you are preparing or under consideration at another journal.
It is well-mannered to respond to an invitation to peer review within a reasonable time frame, even if you cannot undertake the review. If you feel qualified to judge a particular article, you should agree to review only if you are able to return a review within the proposed or mutually agreed time frame. Always inform the journal promptly if your circumstances change and you cannot fulfill your original agreement or if you require an extension. If you cannot review, it is helpful to make suggestions for alternative reviewers if relevant, based on their expertise and without any influence of personal considerations or any intention of the article receiving a specific outcome (either positive or negative).
Conducting A Review
Initial steps: Read the article, supplementary data files and additional material thoroughly (e.g., reviewer instructions, required ethics and policy statements), getting back to JANS editor if anything is not clear and requesting any missing or incomplete items you need. Do not try to contact the authors directly without the permission of the journal.
Confidentiality: Confidentiality of the peer-review process should be respected, and reviewers should refrain from using information obtained during the peer-review process for their own or another’s advantages, disadvantages or discredit others. Do not involve anyone else in the review of an article without first obtaining permission from the journal. The names of any individuals who have helped with the review should be included, so that they are associated with the article in the journal’s records and can also receive due recognition for their efforts.
Bias and competing interests: It is imperative to remain unbiased by considerations related to the nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender or other characteristics of the authors, origins of an article, or commercial considerations. If you discover a competing interest that might prevent you from providing a fair and unbiased review, notify the journal and seek advice. While waiting for a response, refrain from looking at the article and associated material in case the request to review is rescinded. Similarly, notify the journal as soon as possible if you find you do not have the necessary expertise to assess the relevant aspects of an article so as not to unduly delay the review process. The JANS apply for double-blind review, if you suspect the identity of the authors notify the journal, especially if this knowledge raises any potential competing or conflict of interest.
Suspicion of ethics violations: If you come across any irregularities with respect to research and publication ethics do let the journal know. For example, you may have concerns that misconduct occurred during either the research or the writing and submission of the article, or you may notice a substantial similarity between the article and a concurrent submission to another journal or a published article. In the case of these or any other ethical concerns, contact the editor directly and do not attempt to investigate on your own. It is appropriate to cooperate, in confidence, with the journal, but not to personally investigate further unless the journal asks for additional information or advice.
Preparing A Report
1. Format: Follow journals’ instructions for writing and posting the review. Be objective and constructive in your review, providing feedback that will help the authors to improve their article. For example, be specific in your critique, and provide supporting evidence with appropriate references to substantiate general statements, to help editors in their evaluation. Be professional and refrain from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libelous or derogatory personal comments or unfounded accusations.
2. Appropriate feedback: Reviewers should bear in their minds that the editor requires a fair, honest, and unbiased assessment of the articles strengths and limitations. JANS allows reviewers to provide confidential comments to the editor and comments to the authors. The JANS ask for a recommendation to accept/revise/reject the article, and any recommendation should be congruent with the comments provided in the review. If you have not reviewed the whole article, do indicate which aspects of the article you have assessed. Be sure that your comments and recommendations for the editor are consistent with your report for the authors, and most of the feedback should be put in report that the authors will see. Confidential comments to the editor should not be a place for denigration or false accusation, done in the knowledge that the authors will not see your comments.
3. Language and style: Reviewers should remember “it is the authors’ paper” so do not attempt to rewrite it to your preferred style if it is sound and clear; suggestions for changes that improve clarity are, however, necessary. Besides, be aware of the sensitivities surrounding language issues that are due to the authors writing in a language that is not their first or most proficient language and phrase the feedback appropriately and with due respect.
4. Suggestions for further work: It is the job of the peer reviewer to comment on the quality and accuracy of the work they receive. If the work is not fully clear because of missing analyses, the reviewer should comment and explain what additional analyses would clarify the work submitted. It is not the job of the reviewer to extend the work beyond its current scope. Be clear which (if any) suggested additional investigations are essential to support claims made in the article under consideration and which will just strengthen or extend the work
5. Accountability: Reviewers should refrain from making unfair negative comments or including unjustified criticisms of any competitors’ work who are mentioned in the article. Refrain from suggesting that authors include citations to your work merely to increase citation counts or to enhance the visibility of your or your associate’s work; suggestions must be based on valid academic or technological reasons. Do not intentionally prolong the review process, either by delaying the submission of your review, or requesting unnecessary additional information.
After Peer Review
Reviewers should respond promptly whenever they have been contacted by the journal about matters related to their review and provide the information required. Similarly, reviewers should contact the journal if anything relevant comes to light after they have submitted their review that might affect your original feedback and recommendations. Also, reviewers should continue to respect the confidentiality of the review process and do not reveal details of the article after peer review unless they have permission from the journal.
Peer Review Training and Mentoring
New reviewers should try to take advantage of opportunities to enroll in mentorship or training programs to improve peer review skills. Offer to mentor early career researchers as they learn the peer review process. Supervisors who wish to involve their students or junior researchers in peer review must request permission from the editor and abide by the editor’s decision. In cases where a student reviews under the guidance of the supervisor, that should be noted, and the student should be acknowledged. It may also be helpful to read the reviews from the other reviewers, if these are provided by the journal, to improve your understanding of the topic and the reason for the editorial decision. There are training courses available for those starting in peer review, for example, Publons provide a free online training course.
COPE Council. COPE Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers — English. https://doi.org/10.24318/cope.2019.1.9 Version 2: September 2017.
COPE Council. Who ‘owns’ peer reviews? — English. https://doi.org/10.24318/rouP8ld4 Version 2: September 2017.
Moylan E, Binfield P. Who ‘owns’ peer reviews podcast. http://b.link/p-review
Sense about Science. Peer Review: the nuts and bolts. http://b.link/sas-peer
Publons. Learn to peer review with confidence. http://b.link/publ