How we can better support and recognize reviewers

We look at some of the Elsevier projects designed to ease the burden on busy reviewers

Scientists are increasingly busy and often find it difficult to free up time to do reviews. We also know that finding, retaining and rewarding reviewers are long-term pain points for editors. At the same time, new approaches to peer review are being developed, for example, working in a more open and collaborative manner or making use of the latest technology. That makes these times challenging, as well as exciting, and this is reflected in the enthusiasm and energy with which new experiments are being launched within our organization.

My team is behind a number of these peer-review pilots and our decision to carry them out in an experimental setting, i.e. test the concepts with a limited number of journals, is deliberate. It means we can learn quickly and be flexible. If a pilot proves unsuccessful, we can swiftly shift our attention to other areas. However, if the results are encouraging, we can upscale and roll it out to more journal titles. Below I have outlined a few of the pilots currently taking place.

New platform will provide reviewer rewards

This experiment looks at addressing the need of reviewers to be better recognized for their work. Reviewers indicate that they like to review manuscripts; they feel it is an important service to their communities and it keeps them abreast of the latest developments. At the same time, we know they often feel that they are not fully recognized for their work.

Simon Gosling

With this in mind, Elsevier set up a Peer Review Challenge in 2012. We asked entrants to submit an original idea that would significantly improve or add to the current peer-review process. The winner was Simon Gosling, a Lecturer in Climate Change and Hydrology at The University of Nottingham. He proposed the creation of a 'reviewer badges and rewards scheme' as an incentive for reviewers. Elsevier has since been working with him to implement his vision and, in early February, we began piloting a digital badge system with a selection of journals in our Energy portfolio. Via Mozilla OpenBadges, reviewers are issued with badges that they can display on their Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages.A second phase of the pilot is due to be launched this month - a 'reviewer recognition' platform for approximately 40 journals. Upon completion of a review for one of these titles, reviewers are provided with a link to a personal page on the platform that displays their reviewer activity. Based on their contributions to the journal, they are appointed statuses – for example, 'recognized reviewer' for those completing one review within two years, and 'outstanding reviewer' for those that have completed the most reviews. They are also able to download certificates based on their achievements and discount vouchers. We hope the platform will make the important work of reviewers more visible and encourage them to engage with Elsevier journals. Following the pilot, our aim is to make the platform available to all Elsevier titles.

We are continuously looking at how we can increase the visibility of the contribution made by reviewers; in another pilot, the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology has been making its review reports accessible on ScienceDirect. We now want to extend the experiment to more journals and see if we can provide the reports with DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers). In this way, the reports will be better acknowledged as an essential part of scientific literature.

  ScienceDirect visitors to articles from the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology can download the reviewer reports in the right hand bar.

Article Transfer System for soil science journals

Editors are frequently confronted with manuscripts that are out of scope or are simply not suitable for a specific journal; however, they still contain sound research. For some time now, we have been offering the complementary Article Transfer Service (ATS), which is currently active for more than 300 of our journals. ATS allows editors to recommend that authors transfer their submitted papers – and any accompanying reviews – to another Elsevier journal in the field, without the need to reformat them. As well as offering an increased service to authors, ATS also reduces the burden placed on referees. You can read more about ATS in the article "How Elsevier's Article Transfer Service can reduce the burden on reviewers" also published in this issue.

A new experiment with six Elsevier soil science journals aims to improve on this service. If participating editors decide not to accept a paper, they can now choose from two important options in Elsevier's Editorial System (EES):

  • They can choose a new option, 'decline', which means the paper is not suitable for their title. If this option is chosen, the author will always have the option to transfer the article, with the review reports, to another journal.
  • They can decide to 'reject' the paper. If they choose this option, the author will not be invited to submit to any other journal in the pilot.

Gilles Jonker, Executive Publisher for soil science, explained: "The editors of these journals were confronted with a strong growth in submitted articles and found it increasingly difficult to find reviewers that were willing to review. To help address these issues, an agreement was reached to harmonize the editorial policies of the six journals, honor another editor's decision to reject a paper, as well as give authors more autonomy in finding an alternative journal".

Early pilot results show a good uptake by editors of the 'decline' decision option. Authors are also embracing the concept and are accepting transfers to journals within the cluster that better fit the scope of their articles. "Later this year we should be able to see whether this pilot study has indeed addressed reviewer fatigue and improved the quality of submitted articles," said Gilles Jonker.

If you have any comments or suggestions for new peer review related pilots, please get in touch.


Author biography

Dr. Joris van Rossum
For the past 12 years, Dr. Joris van Rossum, PhD, has been involved with the launch and further development of many products and initiatives within Elsevier. He worked as a Product Manager on Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, from its inception, and he worked on Elsevier's search engine for scientific information as Head of Scirus. Later, he developed the Elsevier WebShop, which offers support and services for authors at many stages of the publication workflow. In his current role as Director Publishing Innovation, Joris van Rossum is focused on testing and introducing important innovations with a focus on peer review. He holds a master's of science in biology from the University of Amsterdam, and a PhD in philosophy from VU University Amsterdam.

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