Monday, September 28, 2015

Peer review benefits journals, readers, and reviewers #peerrevwk15

- Jennifer L. Middleton, MD, MPH

Today kicks off the first-ever Peer Review Week, a time to both celebrate and debate peer review in scientific publications. A group of 4 publishing organizations came up with this idea as a way to "honor...thcentral role peer review plays – and, we believe, will continue to play – in scholarly communications." You can follow the conversation on twitter with #peerrevwk15.

But what is peer review, exactly? Here's one definition from
Peer review is the system used to assess the quality of scientific research before it is published. Independent researchers in the same field scrutinise [sic] research papers for validity, significance and originality to help editors assess whether research papers should be published in their journal. 
Peer review furthers journals' credibility by ensuring that external reviewers with no stake in the journal (monetary or otherwise) have deemed their content of sufficient quality and interest to disseminate.

Before each crisp new issue of AFP hits your mailbox or your tablet, peer review volunteers have examined every single clinical article it contains. The peer review process at AFP is similar to many other medical journals. Once we receive a manuscript, AFP staff assigns it to 3-4 peer reviewers. Reviewers receive a copy of the manuscript and provide feedback on both the manuscript's content and quality using an online form, which includes an assessment of whether the manuscript is, or could be, publication-worthy. The assigned AFP medical editor collates the feedback and provides it back to the manuscript authors. Most of the time, authors are asked to respond to the feedback with an improved manuscript. The result is a final article that has been made better by peer reviewers' feedback and ideas.

AFP is grateful to its peer reviewers for their contributions. AAFP members may claim CME credit for each manuscript they review, which is easy to do at the AAFP "Your CME Report" website. Additionally, peer reviewing can help writers strengthen their writing and reading skills. Reading a manuscript for peer review requires careful attention to each word, phrase, and sentence, scrutinizing each one for accuracy, clarity, and any possible bias. Being "sensitized" to "common writing mistakes," as AFP Editor Dr. Jay Siwek has said, can improve the quality of writers' own manuscripts, and I would argue that learning how to read carefully benefits peer reviewers every time they read pretty much anything else.

I've been a peer reviewer for a handful of journals since I was a fellow, and I have immensely enjoyed the opportunity to develop my writing and editing skills along the way. Interacting with journal editors and discovering if they concurred with your assessment has been a great learning process and quite a privilege. Anyone can apply to be a peer reviewer, and journals always seem to be looking for them. If you'd like to learn more about the peer review process at AFP, check out our online reviewer's guide, which includes both this handy reference list of peer review resources and the link to apply to be an AFP peer reviewer (click "Fill out the reviewer profile" and you can download a pdf with further instructions). Remember - AAFP members can get CME credit for each manuscript, and you'll help us continue to produce the high-quality work you've come to expect from AFP.

AFP peer reviewers, please chime in - what do you value about being a peer reviewer?