Why peer review more?
30 October 2023
By Paige Shaklee, PhD
A newer approach to peer review is saving time for authors while giving them the feedback they need.
Providing authors with helpful feedback
Peer review is the cornerstone of scholarly publishing. The constructive assessment and feedback from peer reviewers(opens in new tab/window) helps authors improve their manuscripts and helps editors make decisions about the fit of a manuscript for a particular Journal.
There are two typical approaches to peer review:
Editors pre-select the articles that are most likely to be accepted and send those for peer review. This more familiar approach can save time for the editor. However, the time saved for the editor is time lost for the author, and the author gets little to no feedback to improve their manuscript. Editors frequently also find, later, that the article was successfully published in a very similar, alternative Journal (e.g., see a recent study(opens in new tab/window) on the ultimate outcomes for rejections from a medical journal).
Editors send all ethically and fundamentally sound articles for peer review. This approach provides more constructive feedback to authors that allows them to significantly improve their manuscript. By providing more authors with feedback from their first-choice journal, more authors are able to make the necessary revisions and reach publication. While this approach initially appears more time-intensive for editors and peer reviewers, it has been gaining traction recently. Technology helps accelerate peer review through the continuous development of a diverse peer reviewer pool and clarification of the feedback an editor needs from a peer reviewer.
That’s why, over the past six months, we have been increasingly taking the second approach to peer review. In particular, our team of dedicated in-house Scientific Editors ensures that transferred papers are sent for peer review at a select group of journals, and authors are given the chance to revise their paper. With the support of peer review and an opportunity to revise their paper, authors are significantly more likely to have their article accepted for publication.
Why we’ve started peer reviewing transferred articles
We know that authors who submit to another journal have already experienced the disappointment of rejection — often without peer review or editorial feedback. Our in-house Scientific Editors ensure that transferred manuscripts are only rejected without peer review if there are fundamental ethical or scientific concerns that would lead to rejection in any journal, including impact-neutral, broad scope journals publishing scientifically accurate and valuable research.
“Handling a manuscript from an editor's perspective is a bit like cooking,” explains Dr Roberto Sole(opens in new tab/window), Senior Scientific Editor at Elsevier. “Let the peer review be the final taste test. As editors, our job is to help chefs (authors), suggesting the right spices (revisions) and finding the perfect restaurants (journals) to serve the dish. Let's not judge too early; the real flavor comes after the review!“
Increasing the efficiency of peer review
When we invite peer reviewers to provide feedback on a manuscript, we ask for their assessment of the scientific rigor of the research, including methodology, results and conclusions, as well as novelty of the research. This helps the Scientific Editors to first and foremost assess the rigor and technical soundness of a paper.
We also invite peer reviewers to share when they think the manuscript is a good fit for the journal or could be better suited for an alternative journal. The Scientific Editors use these additional insights as supporting information when they ultimately decide to accept a paper in the journal or, when possible and appropriate, make a recommendation for fast-tracked acceptance in another journal that is a better match. Through Elsevier’s Transfer Service, we transfer peer reviewer comments alongside the transferred manuscript. This reduces the number of editors and peer reviewers who need to assess the same manuscript, and it increases the number of editors with access to insightful peer reviewer comments, helping editors make informed decisions on whether to accept, reject or transfer.
Giving authors the chance to revise their manuscript
With peer reviewer comments in hand, we give authors the chance to revise their manuscript and address both the reviewer’s and editor’s comments. Perceived lack of novelty or impact is a critique often used to justify rejection. However, we’ve seen again and again that, through revision, authors are able to clarify the novelty or impact of their research.
Quite simply, we can give authors the benefit of the doubt with the chance to revise their article to meet the journal’s publication criteria. Scientific Editor Dr Inge Werkman(opens in new tab/window) says she believes that in principle, every author deserves a chance to revise their manuscript, however extensive the revisions may need to be:
Providing authors with a chance to improve their manuscript, even when the initial submission needs significant improvements, ultimately leads to more good quality publications. As editors, we are always impressed by the improvements authors can make to their work, even when we were not expecting it. This would not be possible without this initial invitation to authors to revise their manuscript.
Author Dr Kyle Hoehn(opens in new tab/window), Professor at the University of New South Wales, says he appreciated the opportunity to revise a recent manuscript to address Inge’s questions and her request for clarification of the novelty of the work — which led to the article’s acceptance:
Novelty is nuanced, subjective and context-dependent, so it is difficult to say where to draw the line on how novel is good enough. In my case, one reviewer stated it was an exemplary study and one took issue with novelty. In scenarios like this where there is a split decision, then I’d be inclined to give authors a chance to address novelty.
“This was my first time submitting to your journal as a corresponding author and I’ll definitely submit here again," he adds.
Accelerating the path to publication
While we are giving authors the chance to revise their manuscript, their paper may not always ultimately be matched well with the journal they submitted it to. Because their article has already been peer reviewed and improved, we can make recommendations for great publishing alternatives, frequently with an offer of fast-tracked acceptance to another journal.
That was the experience of Dr David Peña Abades(opens in new tab/window), Principal Scientist and Investigator in the Department of Plant Biology, Ecology and Earth Sciences at the University of Extremadura(opens in new tab/window) in Spain:
Previously, our manuscript was transferred to the Journal of Molecular Structure. In a relatively short time, we received a review of the manuscript by four reviewers. Unfortunately, our manuscript got rejected. Nevertheless, (Elsevier Scientific Editor) Dr Rohan Chakrabarty gave us the possibility that our manuscript was very likely to be fast-tracked for acceptance in the Heliyon journal. We agreed to the transfer of the manuscript and submitted a new version according to the reviewers’ comments. Within three weeks, Heliyon reached out to us and notified us that our manuscript got accepted by Heliyon. We appreciate Rohan’s responsiveness. We are impressed by the efficiency and flexibility of the entire transfer process.
We are ensuring that authors receive constructive feedback through peer review and the opportunity to revise their paper on a growing group of Elsevier journals. As one of these journals, Heliyon(opens in new tab/window) is also delighted to ensure peer review for authors who have submitted through Elsevier’s Article Transfer Service, says Editorial Director Dr Christian Schulz(opens in new tab/window):
At Heliyon, we aim to provide feedback to as many authors as possible. As an inclusive journal, it’s rewarding to see how many authors are able to successfully address reviewer concerns and revise their paper to meet Heliyon’s publication requirements.
By the numbers
By providing feedback to authors through peer review and giving them the chance to revise their papers, we are able to help twice as many authors successfully publish their papers in their first-choice journals, and offer the remaining authors of scientifically robust manuscripts the opportunity to publish in alternative journals.
As Scientific Editor Dr Rohan Chakrabarty(opens in new tab/window) explains:
We have the unique opportunity to provide authors with valuable reviewer comments for manuscript improvement and recommend suitable journals with fast-tracked acceptance offers, expediting the acceptance process. This results in delighted authors and content reviewers, as their reviews are not wasted but are considered in the decision-making process for other journals.
With these positive early signs, we are eagerly working to expand the service to additional journals. We are continually improving on our service to authors based on generous community feedback.