Peer Review: A Critical Part of the Publishing Process


Everybody wants a fair shake.

Fairness and quality are the cornerstones of peer review—the process by which professional work is reviewed by individuals qualified to determine the quality of the work.

Used by scholarly publications and researchers the world over, publishers harness the power of peer review to ensure the credibility and integrity of their editorial review processes.

Peer-reviewed work is often higher quality and professionals often appreciate having their work reviewed by similarly-situated colleagues and seasoned experts in the same field. The structure of peer review can vary, but it is typically “single-masked” (the name of the reviewer is hidden from the author) or “double-masked” (both the reviewer and author remain unknown to each other).

Here is the basic process for peer review:

SubmissionTypically through an online submission platform, an individual or organization submits their work for review.
ReceiptThe lead reviewer receives the work through the online system and records its receipt. The submitter receives a confirmation.
DistributionThe lead reviewer distributes the work to a few peer reviewers along with a set timeframe for review.
ReviewThe peer reviewers conduct a review of the work within the specified timeframe.
CompilationThe lead reviewer collects and synthesizes the peer reviews, compiling major themes while reviewing the work themselves.
DecisionThe publishing team makes a decision to accept or reject the submitted work.
Revision + Resubmission (if rejected)Even most accepted work require at least some revision or editing. If the work is rejected altogether, the submitter has the opportunity to revise and resubmit the work.

peer review process

While the process differs between the academic, scientific, and publishing communities—the essence of peer review in each field remains the same. Digging into the research that underlies peer review to understand its nuances will help publishers build an effective publication review process that includes peer review.

Let us dig into how exactly to get that done as part of the publishing process.

The good, the bad, and ugly of peer review

The good, the bad, and ugly of peer review

Two things are true:

Peer review is the gold standard for much of the research community.

Peer review is not without its own challenges.

As a crucial means for collaboration between experts, peer review allows for vital feedback that improves published work and advances across a wide range of professional communities. In research, peer reviews help to hone initial theories and fuels the scientific process by challenging researchers to go beyond existing limits of understanding.

In practice-based and professional communities, peer review processes like 360 reviews give practitioners more well-rounded views of themselves and their work in order to facilitate personal and process improvements.

In learning communities, peer review helps students learn to respect and integrate the opinions of others while broadening the boundaries of their understanding by including diverse perspectives as part of the learning process.

The key element of peer review in all of these communities: feedback for improvement.

It’s easy for writers to feel as though they are working in a vacuum, or to become too close to their own work. Without constructive support, we cannot grow and better ourselves. Peer review embeds the idea of dialogue between professionals into the publication process itself and creates opportunities for improvement over time.

Even more critically, peer review prevents bad research from being published—it’s a major barrier against low-quality work.

All of that said, peer review is no silver bullet. Publishers should remain vigilant about the downsides of peer review if they decide to include it as part of their publication process, and put systems in place to minimize the negative aspects of the review:

  • Innovation Suffers: Peer review can tend to limit innovation by its very nature (relying so heavily on established ideas and practices employed by reviewers).
    • Potential fix: Carve out a specific number of slots for boundary-pushing ideas in every review process.
  • Bias Matters: Peer review also tends to reproduce rather than resolve the biases we have in our society—especially gender bias.
    • Potential fix: Employ a diverse peer review team to ensure multiple perspectives and backgrounds are represented in the process.

A huge part of building a strong peer review process is pulling together the right community of reviewers in the first place. The very nature of peer review is that you cannot do it alone. This makes organizing a team of professional reviewers and making it easy for them to do their best work—ideally by using quality submission tools—a critical part of your publication process.

With the right tools and workflows in place, it’s possible to leverage peer review to enrich your publication process and enhance the quality of the work submitted to your organization over the long term.

How publishers can effectively use peer review

How publishers can effectively use peer review

So what can peer review accomplish as part of your publication process?

In short, a great deal.

As a publisher, you want to ensure that the work you put out into the world is of the highest quality. Your credibility and reputation are at stake. Peer review, put into practice effectively, can enhance how you measure quality internally and improve your team’s ability to analyze works before they are published.

Here are a few benefits that peer review brings to the publication process:

  1. Prevents mistakes: When work is peer-reviewed, it reduces the likelihood of mistakes getting published.
  2. Embeds improvement: The peer review process allows publishers to ask submitters to improve their work prior to publication.
  3. Builds confidence: Both publishers and submitters are ensured that work is higher quality after reviews by multiple professionals.
  4. Delivers feedback: Professionals get the advice and feedback they need to grow in their practice.
  5. Confirms observations: Publishers (and submitters) can be confident that points made by submitters are confirmed and supported by reviewers.
  6. Ensures concision: Reviewers often help submitters narrow and focus their language in order to support clarity and understanding.
  7. Broadens perspectives: The tussle of ideas within the review process allows biases and prejudices to be challenged.
  8. Clarifies terms: Peer reviewers can help submitters reduce jargon and improve understanding of their work.
  9. Enhances explanation: Reviewers will often ask submitters to deepen and enrich the ways they explain specific concepts.

By now you should have a clear sense of what peer review can do for you (and your publication process). From greater quality control and improved research to addressing bias and building a better profession, peer review comes with many benefits for publishers.

By bringing together a strong community of committed professionals and giving them the tools to review and enhance submitted works, peer review can truly enrich how and what you publish.

Submittable is a modern submission management tool that can provide publishers with a powerful and convenient platform for managing the publication process—including peer review. Your team and your reviewers deserve streamlined processes and easy-to-use systems that help them ensure you are publishing only the best works.

Give it to them.

Your peers will thank you.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.