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What is peer review?


Reviewers play a pivotal role in scholarly publishing. The peer review system exists to validate academic work, helps to improve the quality of published research, and increases networking possibilities within research communities. Despite criticisms, peer review is still the only widely accepted method for research validation and has continued successfully with relatively minor changes for some 350 years.

Elsevier relies on the peer review process to uphold the quality and validity of individual articles and the journals that publish them.

Peer review has been a formal part of scientific communication since the first scientific journals appeared more than 300 years ago. The Philosophical Transactionsopens in new tab/window of the Royal Society is thought to be the first journal to formalize the peer review processopens in new tab/window under the editorship of Henry Oldenburg (1618- 1677).

Despite many criticisms about the integrity of peer review, the majority of the research community still believes peer review is the best form of scientific evaluation. This opinion was endorsed by the outcome of a survey Elsevier and Sense About Science conducted in 2009opens in new tab/window and has since been further confirmed by other publisher and scholarly organization surveys. Furthermore, a 2015 survey by the Publishing Research Consortiumopens in new tab/window, saw 82% of researchers agreeing that “without peer review there is no control in scientific communication.”

To learn more about peer review, visit Elsevier’s free e-learning platform Researcher Academyopens in new tab/window and see our resources below.

The review process

The peer review process

Types of peer review

Peer review comes in different flavours. Each model has its own advantages and disadvantages, and often one type of review will be preferred by a subject community. Before submitting or reviewing a paper, you must therefore check which type is employed by the journal so you are aware of the respective rules. In case of questions regarding the peer review model employed by the journal for which you have been invited to review, consult the journal’s homepage or contact the editorial office directly.  

Single anonymized review

In this type of review, the names of the reviewers are hidden from the author. This is the traditional method of reviewing and is the most common type by far. Points to consider regarding single anonymized review include:

  • Reviewer anonymity allows for impartial decisions, as the reviewers will not be influenced by potential criticism from the authors.

  • Authors may be concerned that reviewers in their field could delay publication, giving the reviewers a chance to publish first.

  • Reviewers may use their anonymity as justification for being unnecessarily critical or harsh when commenting on the authors’ work.

Double anonymized review

Both the reviewer and the author are anonymous in this model. Some advantages of this model are listed below.

  • Author anonymity limits reviewer bias, such as on author's gender, country of origin, academic status, or previous publication history.

  • Articles written by prestigious or renowned authors are considered based on the content of their papers, rather than their reputation.

But bear in mind that despite the above, reviewers can often identify the author through their writing style, subject matter, or self-citation – it is exceedingly difficult to guarantee total author anonymity. More information for authors can be found in our double-anonymized peer review guidelines.

Triple anonymized review

With triple anonymized review, reviewers are anonymous to the author, and the author's identity is unknown to both the reviewers and the editor. Articles are anonymized at the submission stage and are handled in a way to minimize any potential bias towards the authors. However, it should be noted that: 

  • The complexities involved with anonymizing articles/authors to this level are considerable.

  • As with double anonymized review, there is still a possibility for the editor and/or reviewers to correctly identify the author(s) from their writing style, subject matter, citation patterns, or other methodologies.

Open review

Open peer review is an umbrella term for many different models aiming at greater transparency during and after the peer review process. The most common definition of open review is when both the reviewer and author are known to each other during the peer review process. Other types of open peer review consist of:

  • Publication of reviewers’ names on the article page 

  • Publication of peer review reports alongside the article, either signed or anonymous 

  • Publication of peer review reports (signed or anonymous) with authors’ and editors’ responses alongside the article 

  • Publication of the paper after pre-checks and opening a discussion forum to the community who can then comment (named or anonymous) on the article 

Many believe this is the best way to prevent malicious comments, stop plagiarism, prevent reviewers from following their own agenda, and encourage open, honest reviewing. Others see open review as a less honest process, in which politeness or fear of retribution may cause a reviewer to withhold or tone down criticism. For three years, five Elsevier journals experimented with publication of peer review reports (signed or anonymous) as articles alongside the accepted paper on ScienceDirect (exampleopens in new tab/window).

Read more about the experiment

More transparent peer review

Transparency is the key to trust in peer review and as such there is an increasing call towards more transparency around the peer review process. In an effort to promote transparency in the peer review process, many Elsevier journals therefore publish the name of the handling editor of the published paper on ScienceDirect. Some journals also provide details about the number of reviewers who reviewed the article before acceptance. Furthermore, in order to provide updates and feedback to reviewers, most Elsevier journals inform reviewers about the editor’s decision and their peers’ recommendations. 

Article transfer service: sharing reviewer comments

Elsevier authors may be invited to transfer their article submission from one journal to another for free if their initial submission was not successful. 

As a referee, your review report (including all comments to the author and editor) will be transferred to the destination journal, along with the manuscript. The main benefit is that reviewers are not asked to review the same manuscript several times for different journals.