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Peer Review

Whether you are new to peer reviewing or are a seasoned professional, this guide will provide you with information to better understand the peer review process and landscape. Inspired by Peer Review Week, it will be updated yearly to offer new resources.

Digital Publishing Librarian

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Kristin Van Diest


Peer review week is an annual week dedicated to the scholarly process of peer review.

What is peer review?

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), "Peer review is the process by which a piece of scientific research is assessed by others—a researcher’s fellow peers—who are suitably qualified and able to judge the piece of work under review in terms of novelty, soundness and significance" (2017). 

Peer review helps to ensure that high-quality, accurate, and ethical work is being published. It is an integral part of the research process and a staple in the academic research community. Students can also benefit from learning the peer review process. In the book Student-Led Peer Review: A Practical Guide to Implementation Across Disciplines and Modalities, the authors state that "student-led peer review is a powerful tool for learning. It helps students master academic content, improve the quality of their work, and develop self-evaluative, interpersonal, and practical workplace skills" (Lowe et. al, 2022).

How does it work?

Once a manuscript is submitted to a journal for publication, an editor or editorial team collaborates with a group of peer reviewers to evaluate it. Usually the editor(s) function as the initial screening layer, through which manuscripts that are deemed within scope and of high quality are passed on to peer reviewers for commenting and review. The peer reviewers then read the manuscript, making notes or commenting as they see fit. Each journal has a set of guidelines for peer reviewers to follow that can be extensive or simple. Following the review, the annotated manuscript is then returned to the author, allong with the decision of the peer reviewer. Decisions can fall under five major categories:

  1. Accept: the reviewer believes that the manuscript is ready for publication as is.
  2. Minor revision: the reviewer has made a few minor suggestions for the author that, once changed, the manuscript will be ready to publish without further review.
  3. Major revision: This feedback means that the manuscript needs substantial work before a decision can be made to publish it. Changes can range from "a broader literature review, additional data analysis, expanded discussion of findings, or re-writing or re-organization of text" (Meyer-Junco, 2023). A second review of the revised manuscript will then be necessary to move the pages on to publication.
  4. Reject & Resubmit: this decision shows that while the reviewer believes that the manuscript has potential, the author needs to make considerable revisions in order for it to be published, such as improving the quality or readability, creating more depth, or being more accurate on the topic of discussion. This decision allows the author to resubmit for publication.
  5. Rejection: the reviewer has deemed the manuscript unsuitable for publication, noting that even with revision or resubmission, the manuscript will still not be improved enough to publish.
    (Summarized from Peer Review Questions & Answers: What & Why?, Meyer-Junco, L., 2023)

While the editor(s) ultimately make the final call on accepting or rejecting a manuscript, reviewer recommendations play a major role in that decision. If you are submitting a manuscript to be published, it is necessary to take the annotations and recommendations of your peer reviewers seriously in order to ensure publication.

Models of peer review

  • Single-blind: the author's name is known to the reviewers, but the reviewers are kept anonymous to the author (unless they choose to self-identify)
  • Double-blind: neither the author nor the reviewers names are made known to either party (if the research is published, reviewers will eventually know the name of the author)
  • Open: both the author and reviewers names are made known to the other
  • Transparent: if the manuscript is accepted for publication, the reviews are also made openly available (with the names of the reviewers redacted)
  • Interactive or collaborative: this refers to a review process in which either the reviewers interact with each other or with the authors. It can be either open or anonymous at any of these levels of interaction
  • Post-publication: a type of open peer review that takes place after the publication of the manuscript
  • Post-publication commenting: this style of review makes the published manuscript open for public comment or annotation, which can be anonymous, open, or facilitated
  • Pre-print commenting: similar to post-publication commenting, this type of review makes pubic commenting available on a pre-print archive or server


Even though peer review is still considered integral to the research process, it does not come without its own set of issues. Below are just a few:

  • Timeliness: Often, the entire peer review process can take an extremely long time. Hoffman (2022) cites a study that concludes delayed reviewing time averages "168 days for accepted manuscripts". This can be caused by the influx of manuscripts to review while the pool of reviewers stays the same, as well as general burn out from doing peer review work.
  • Perpetuation of systemic bias: It is unfortunately true that the publication of harmful research has used the peer review process to create legitimacy for its place in the scientific record. Harrison W. Inefuku, of Iowa State University, address this problem succinctly for The Scholarly Kitchen, stating, "Embedding anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices can make peer review, and the publishing process in general, more hospitable to marginalized communities, making it a more useful tool in upholding “research integrity"" (We Asked the Community: Is Research Integrity Possible without Peer Review?, 2022).
  • Ad hominem comments: Another prominent issue is that reviewers are not following ethical guidelines and treating the peer review process as one of collaboration for the greater good. Reviews that attack the author, instead of critiquing the scholarly work are unproductive and a general waste of everyone's time. 
  • Confirmation bias: This can be described as, "confirming what we believe to be true while ignoring or deemphasizing other existing information that may challenge our intuitive believes" (Hoffman, 2022). Reviewers should try to be impartial to the material they are reviewing, focusing more on the contribution to science and knowledge, and less on whether the manuscript proves or disproves their personal beliefs.
  • Lack of training: A study from 2009 found that "over 56% of the researchers interviewed indicated that there "lacked coordination and guidance in how reviews were to be conducted" (Hoffman, 2022). In the years since this study, COPE and other organizations have released Peer Review toolkits and training programs to help ensure that reviewers have resources, even when the journal they are working for does not provide them.

Despite these issues with peer review, professionals in the field remain compassionate and hopeful. An excerpt taken from a blog post on The Scholarly Kitchen quotes Katie Duffy, Senior Director of Publications at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, stating "We also need to recognize that the pressure on our authors and referees to work quickly and produce more and more can sometimes invite shortcuts or lapses in judgement. Peer reviewer education and strong support from editorial teams is critical to ensuring that right balance between quality and speed" (We Asked the Community: Is Research Integrity Possible without Peer Review?, 2022).


Open peer review is becoming normalized in the scholarly community, in tandem with recognition for peer review activity. For much of the history of scholarly publishing, peer review has been recognized as an essential part of the scholarly practice, however those conducting peer reviews are seldom given credit or recognition for their time and insightfulness. This is in part due to the nature of the traditional double- and single-blind peer review styles, but also to the fact that peer review has been an assumed part of an academic career. 

Another major trend, as mentioned above, is the inclusion of training and ethical guidelines for peer reviewers. In July 2018, the Library Publishing Coalition released its first iteration of An Ethical Framework for Library Publishing, which was revised and released as Version 2.0 in May 2023. While this document addresses multiple aspects of the library publishing system, it does include guidelines for best practices in peer review. These guidelines recommend that library publishers "adopt anti-racist practices (e.g. peer review, citation review, organizational development) that address inequities and barriers" as well as, 

Provide transparent review and assessment policies, and center mentoring, conversing, collaborating, and caring, rather than gatekeeping; reconsider who can be a peer reviewer, what qualities are important in reviewers, and the purpose of the review; consider whether anonymous or open peer review best serves the disciplines and communities relating to the work.

Living documents such as "Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors" have been created in response to community calls to action for scholarly communications professionals and departments to respond to issues of racial and systemic bias in library and academic publishing. The Coalition for Publishing Ethics (COPE) published it's Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers in 2019, stating that "journals have an obligation to provide transparent policies for peer review, and reviewers have an obligation to conduct reviews in an ethical and accountable manner" (COPE, 2019). 


Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers. (2017). Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

Hoffman, A. J. (2022). A modest proposal to the peer review process: a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach in the assessment of scholarly communication. Research Ethics, 18(1), 84–91.

Library Publishing Coalition. (2023, May). An Ethical Framework For Library Publishing, Version 2.0.

Lowe, K. A., Cummins, L., Clark, S., Porter, B., & Spitz, L. (2022). Student-Led Peer Review: a Practical Guide to Implementation Across Disciplines and Modalities. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Meyer-Junco, L., & Su, A. (Chloe). (2023). Peer Review Questions & Answers: What & Why? Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 37(1), 1–2.

Regala, J., Groth, M., & Casp, M. (2022, November 14). We Asked the Community: Is Research Integrity Possible without Peer Review? The Scholarly Kitchen.


Scholarly Discussion

Peer Review Toolkits

Peer Review Training Programs