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[ RESEARCH INTEGRITY ] June 10, 2022

Fixing the problems of peer review one researcher at a time

Any researcher who has spent long hours at a computer screen, refining, editing, and completing a manuscript knows the value of a second pair of eyes. Having someone look over your work can bring a fresh perspective to your ideas and help you reframe the way you present your findings.

Peer review benefits everyone involved, giving authors important feedback that can improve the quality of their final paper, giving reviewers opportunities to advance their careers and to access groundbreaking early-stage research and stay up-to-date with their field, and giving readers the confidence in knowing the science is sound. But the process is not without its flaws. At its worst, peer reviewing can be a slow and uncertain way of ensuring good science, with many bad apples still falling through the cracks. How can we change this? Let’s start by shifting the way we communicate. We’ve gathered some thoughts on the best of peer reviewing to help improve this process and kickstart these changes.

 

Enhance Your Skills

Reviewers are typically scientists who have experience in the particular field relevant to the work being assessed. But this background does not provide one with all the information and skills needed to provide constructive feedback, support, and mentorship. And what about early-career researchers? How can they contribute to the peer review system without having an extensive scientific background?

Many academic publishers and other scholarly institutions offer peer review training courses to help scholars practice providing feedback and building confidence in their insights. These courses can empower ECRs and researchers from underrepresented backgrounds, hindered by the imposter syndrome and other obstacles, to step up to the peer reviewing plate. Investing in these training courses can help you prepare the most useful evaluations and increase efficiency within the reviewing process.

 

Trust the Process

The peer review process can be complicated, but doesn’t need to be. There are elements of the system that exist to make it easier on both reviewers and authors. Academic journals and research platforms can provide guidelines for reviewers, outlining the standard of research typically accepted in the final publication and the set of criteria that should be used in your comments and evaluations. The problem is, these guidelines are not always provided, and things can still be murky when it comes to scoring.

At Morressier, we’ve found a few ways to clean things up. We give organizers the opportunity and the tools needed to determine the scoring system and define the review process. Our Peer Review Workflows let you follow the steps from calls for abstracts to peer review to content sharing, simplifying and speeding up the journey to access early-stage research.

 

Be Inquisitive

A great reviewer asks questions to the author and themselves as they prepare their feedback. Be mindful and intentional about your criticisms. If you come across something you don’t understand, take a second to read beyond things like language barriers and attempt to get a sense of what the author is trying to say before dismissing it. Find a respectful way to tell the author that they should be clearer in their messaging and how they present their results. Always ask yourself how you can be of value to your community through your review. How you can be firm, but also constructive and encouraging. Remember to never give feedback that you wouldn’t feel comfortable receiving. Taking the time to treat pre-published research with thought and care as you review it can take early-stage findings to the next level.

 

Opt for Transparency

Making the research process more transparent means increasing research reproducibility and changing the way the public engages with scientific findings. One way to do this is to open up a historically private system and give reviewers the recognition that they deserve. Reviewers are integral to the scientific community, and yet despite the value of their contributions to science, many feel that the return gains of this unpaid task are few and far between. 

Crediting reviewers can greatly benefit their career and boost your academic reputation, especially for ECRs looking to make a name for themselves within their field. While most peer review systems are anonymized, be sure to opt in when given the choice for your name to be published alongside the author’s final paper. You can even use persistent identifiers like ORCID IDs to attach your name to all the reviews you’ve completed, just as one can for conference presentations and journal articles. In doing this, you are doing your part to connect the dots of the scholarly process and working to build a more continuous and transparent research lifecycle.

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