Career Tips & Advice

Peer review in Asia – what you need to know

Publisher Jaap van Harten highlights two of the potential challenges faced by reviewers across Asia

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1. Pay attention to writing styles

These days, it doesn’t matter whether you are a researcher based in Europe, Asia, or any corner of the globe, if your article is published in an international journal, it will be available to readers worldwide.

That means there are some key things to remember when preparing your manuscript – as a global author it is essential to leave behind the conventions of your own country and ensure you present your research in a style accessible to the widest possible audience.

That premise also applies to the process of peer review. Wherever you are based, it’s important to remember that you need to view the paper through ‘global glasses’. And that is also true in Asia.

I remember giving an author workshop some years ago, and one of the other speakers talked about the fact that authors in Western countries have a very different writing style than authors in the East. In the Western world, we tend to organize stories in a ‘circular’ fashion, while authors in the East are more likely to write in a linear, flowing fashion.

Jaap’s May webinar on peer review in Asia is just one of many resources available on Elsevier’s Publishing Campus – a new free online training platform for researchers.

  • Discover the Publishing Campus’s interactive courses, online lectures and videos for reviewers
  • View the archived version of the webinar

What did she mean by that? Well, if I tell a joke I might start it along the lines of ‘have you heard the joke about the three boys who went to the beach?’. Right from the start, the person I’m talking to knows that a) it’s a joke and b) it involves three boys who go to the beach. They have clarity over what is about to follow and can confirm whether or not they are interested. It’s the same with research papers – in Western countries, we start with an abstract that summarizes what you are about to read and allows you to decide whether to continue. Beneath that summary sits the explanation of how we carried out the experiment and any supporting information – this is a circular approach. However, papers from the East often begin with the least important information and describe the progress made before arriving at the results and points of interest – a linear approach.

As a reviewer in Asia you need to be actively aware of these different writing styles.

2. Don’t be swayed by hierarchy

In Asia, there is commonly a higher level of respect for seniority than you might find in Western countries. That can make it tough for researchers who receive a paper for review and see it has been written by an important professor or influential figure. It is really important to put that aside – it is essential the editor knows that you have viewed the paper impartially and that your recommendation is based on the contents of the paper alone.

Remember, you are anonymous so you can be frank and open - but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be fair!


Author biography

Jaap van HartenDr. Jaap van Harten is Executive Publisher for Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical Sciences at Elsevier in  Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He trained as a pharmacist at Leiden University, The Netherlands, and got a PhD in clinical pharmacology in 1988. He then joined Solvay Pharmaceuticals, where he held positions in pharmacokinetics, clinical pharmacology, medical marketing, and regulatory affairs. In 2000, he moved to Excerpta Medica, Elsevier's medical communications branch, where he headed the Medical Department and the Strategic Publication Planning Department. In 2004, he joined Elsevier's Publishing organization, initially as Publisher of the Genetics journals and books, and since 2006 as Executive Publisher Pharmacology & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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