Peer Review

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Your work is shared with experts in your field of study in order to gain their insight and suggestions. Reviewers will evaluate the originality and thoroughness of your work, and whether it is within scope for the journal you have submitted to. There are many forms of peer review, from traditional models like single-blind and double-blind review to newer models, such as open and transferable review. Learn about our Transparent Peer Review pilot in collaboration with Publons and ScholarOne (part of Clarivate, Web of Science).

The length of the peer review process varies by journal, so check with the editors or the staff of the journal to which you are submitting to for details of the process for that particular journal. Click here to read Wiley’s review confidentiality policy and check the review model for each journal we publish.

What is the reviewer looking for?

Originality, scientific significance, conciseness, precision, and completeness

In general, at first read-through reviewers will be assessing your argument’s construction, the clarity of the language, and content. They will be asking themselves the following questions:

  • What is the main question addressed by the research? Is it relevant and interesting?
  • How original is the topic? What does it add to the subject area compared with other published material?
  • Is the paper well written? Is the text clear and easy to read?
  • Are the conclusions consistent with the evidence and arguments presented? Do they address the main question posed?
  • If the author is disagreeing significantly with the current academic consensus, do they have a substantial case? If not, what would be required to make their case credible?
  • If the paper includes tables or figures, what do they add to the paper? Do they aid understanding or are they superfluous?
  • Is the argument well-constructed and clear? Are there any factual errors or invalid arguments?

They may also consider the following:

  • Does the title properly reflect the subject of the paper?
  • Does the abstract provide an accessible summary of the paper?
  • Do the keywords accurately reflect the content?
  • Does the paper follow a clear and organized structure?
  • Is the paper an appropriate length?
  • Are the key messages short, accurate and clear?

Upon closer readings, the reviewer will be looking for any major issues:

  • Are there any major flaws?
  • If experimental design features prominently in the paper, is the methodology sound?
  • Is the research replicable, reproducible, and robust? Does it follow best practice and meet ethical standards?
  • Has similar work already been published without the authors acknowledging this?
  • Are there published studies that show similar or dissimilar trends that should be discussed?
  • Are the authors presenting findings that challenge current thinking? Is the evidence they present strong enough to prove their case? Have they cited all the relevant work that would contradict their thinking and addressed it appropriately?
  • Are there any major presentational problems? Are figures & tables, language and manuscript structure all clear enough to accurately assess the work?
  • Are there any ethical issues?

The reviewer will also note minor issues that need to be corrected:

  • Are the correct references cited? Are citations excessive, limited, or biased?
  • Are there any factual, numerical, or unit errors? If so, what are they?
  • Are all tables and figures appropriate, sufficient, and correctly labelled?

Possible outcomes of peer review

The journal’s editor or editorial board considers the feedback provided by the peer reviewers and uses this information to arrive at a decision. In addition to the comments received from the review, editors also base their decisions on:

  • The journal’s aims and audience
  • The state of knowledge in the field
  • The level of competition for acceptance and page space within the journal

The following represent the range of possible outcomes:

  • Accept without any changes (acceptance): The journal will publish the paper in its original form. This type of decision outcome is rare
  • Accept with minor revisions (acceptance): The journal will publish the paper and asks the author to make small corrections. This is typically the best outcome that authors should hope for
  • Accept after major revisions (conditional acceptance): The journal will publish the paper provided the authors make the changes suggested by the reviewers and/or editors
  • Revise and resubmit (conditional rejection): The journal is willing to reconsider the paper in another round of decision making after the authors make major changes
  • Reject the paper (outright rejection): The journal will not publish the paper or reconsider it even if the authors make major revisions

The decision outcome will be accompanied by the reviewer reports and some commentary from the editor that explains why the decision has been reached. If the decision involves revision for the author, the specific changes that are required should be clearly stated in the decision letter and review reports. The author can then respond to each point in turn.

Common reasons for rejection

The manuscript fails the technical screening: Before manuscripts are sent to the EIC or handling editor, many editorial offices first perform some checks. The main reasons that papers can be rejected at this stage are:

  • The article contains elements that are suspected to be plagiarized, or it is currently under review at another journal (submitting the same paper to multiple journals at the same time is not allowed)
  • The manuscript is insufficiently well prepared; for example, lacking key elements such as the title, authors, affiliations, keywords, main text, references, and tables and figures
  • The English is not of sufficient quality to allow a useful peer review to take place
  • The figures are not complete or are not clear enough to read
  • The article does not conform to the most important aspects of the specific journal’s Author Guidelines

The manuscript does not fall within the Aims and Scope of the journal: The work is not of interest to the readers of the specific journal

The manuscript is incomplete: For example, the article contains observations but is not a full study or it discusses findings in relation to some of the work in the field but ignores other important work

A clear hypothesis or research aim was not established or the question behind the work is not of interest in the field

The goal of the research was over-ambitious, and hence it could not realistically be achieved

There are flaws in the procedures and/or analysis of the data:

  • The study lacked clear control groups or other comparison metrics
  • The study did not conform to recognized procedures or methodology that can be repeated
  • The analysis is not statistically valid or does not follow the norms of the field

The conclusions were exaggerated: The conclusions cannot be justified on the basis of the rest of the paper

  • The arguments are illogical, unstructured or invalid
  • The data do not support the conclusions
  • The conclusions ignore large portions of the literature

The research topic was of little significance:

  • It is archival, or of marginal interest to the field; it is simply a small extension of a different paper, often from the same authors
  • Findings are incremental and do not significantly advance the field
  • The work is clearly part of a larger study, chopped up to make as many articles as possible (so-called “salami publication”)

Bad writing: If the language, structure, or figures are so poor that the merit of the paper can’t be assessed, then the paper will be rejected. It’s a good idea to ask a native English speaker to read the paper before submitting. Wiley Editing Services offers English Language Editing services, which you can use prior to submission if you are not confident in the quality of your English writing skills

What to do if your manuscript gets rejected

It is very common for papers to be rejected. Studies indicate that 21% of papers are rejected without review, and approximately 40% of papers are rejected after peer review.

If your paper has been rejected prior to peer review due to lack of subject fit, then find a new journal to submit your work to and move on.

However, if you receive a rejection after your paper has been reviewed, you will have a rich source of information about possible improvements that you could make. You have the following options:

Make the recommended changes and resubmit to the same journal:

This option could well be your top choice if you are keen to publish in a particular journal and if the editor has indicated that they will accept your paper if revisions are made. If the editor has issued an outright rejection and does not wish to reconsider the paper, you should respect this decision and submit to a different journal.

Make changes and submit to a different journal:

If you decide to try a different journal, you should still carefully consider the comments you received during the first round of review, and work on improving your manuscript before submitting elsewhere. Make sure that you adjust details like the cover letter, referencing and any other journal specific details before submitting to a different journal.

Make no changes and submit to a different journal:

While this option is an easy one, it is not recommended. It’s likely that many of the suggestions made during the original review would lead to an improved paper and by not addressing these points you are wasting a) the effort expended in the first round of review, and b) the opportunity to increase your chances of acceptance at the next journal. Furthermore, there is a chance that your manuscript may be assessed by the same reviewers at a new journal (particularly if you are publishing in a niche field). In this case, their recommendation will not change if you have not addressed the concerns raised in their earlier review. One exception would be if you are submitting to a journal that participates in a transfer program, where authors can agree to have their manuscript and reviews transferred to a new journal for consideration without making changes.

Appeal against the decision:

The journal should have a publicly described policy for appealing against editorial decisions. If you feel that the decision was based on an unfair assessment of your paper, or that there were major errors in the review process, then you are within your rights as an author to appeal. If you wish to appeal a decision, take the time to research that journal’s appeal process and review and address the points raised by the reviewer to prepare a reasoned and logical response.

Throw the manuscript away and never resubmit it:

Rejection can be disheartening, and it may be tempting to decide that it’s not worth the trouble of resubmitting. But, this is not the best outcome for either you or the wider research community. Your data may be highly valuable to someone else, or may help another researcher to avoid generating similar negative results.

Responding to the reviewer

You may not be able to control what the reviewers write in their review comments, but you can control the way you react to their comments. It’s useful to remember these points:

Reviewers have, on the whole, given time and effort to constructively criticize your article

Reviewers are volunteers and have given up their own time to evaluate your paper in order to contribute to the research community. Reviewers very rarely receive formal compensation beyond recognition from the editors of the effort they have expended. The author will get the ultimate credit, but reviewers are often key contributors to the shape of the final paper. Although the comments you receive may feel harsh, most reviewers are also authors and therefore will be trying to highlight how the paper could be improved. So, it is important to be grateful for the time that both reviewers and editors have spent evaluating your paper – and to express this gratitude in your response.

The importance of good manners

You should remain polite and thoughtful throughout any and all response to reviewers and editors. You are much more likely to receive a positive response in return and this will help build a constructive relationship with both reviewer and editor in the future.

Don’t take criticism as a personal attack

As stated previously, it is very rare that a paper will be accepted without any form of revisions requested. It is the job of the editor and reviewer to make sure that the published papers are scientifically sound, factual, clear and complete. In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to draw attention to areas of improvement. While this may be difficult for you as an author, the criticism received is not intended to be personal.

Avoid personalizing responses to the reviewer

Sticking to the facts and avoiding personal attacks is imperative. It’s a good idea to wait 24 to 72 hours before responding to a decision letter—then re-read the email. This simple process will remove much of the personal bias that could pollute appeals letters written in rage or disappointment. If you respond in anger, or in an argumentative fashion the editor and reviewers are much less likely to respond favorably.

Remember, even if you think the reviewer is wrong, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are right! It is possible that the reviewer has made a mistake, but it is also possible that the reviewer was not able to understand your point because of a lack of clarity, or omission of crucial detail in your paper.

Evaluating the reviewer comments and planning your response

After you have read the decision letter and the reviewers comments, wait for at least 24 hours, then take a fresh look at the comments provided. This will help to neutralize the initial emotional response you may have and allow you to determine what the reviewers are asking for in a more objective manner.

Spending time assessing the scope of the revisions requested will help you evaluate the extent of effort required and prioritize the work you may need to undertake. It will also help you to provide a comprehensive response in your letter of reply.

Some useful steps to consider:

  • Make a list of all the reviewer comments and number them
  • Categorize the list as follows
    • requests for clarification of existing text, addition of text to fill a gap in the paper, or additional experimental details
    • requests to reanalyze, re-express, or reinterpret existing data
    • requests for additional experiments or further proof of concept
    • requests you simply cannot meet
  • Note down the action/response that you plan to undertake for each comment. If there are requests that you cannot meet, you need to address these in your response – providing a logical, reasoned explanation for why the study is not detrimentally affected by not making the changes requested

Want to become a peer reviewer? Learn more about peer review, including how to become a reviewer in our Reviewer Resource Center.

Further reading:

How to deal with reviewer comments Cooperation not Confrontation- How to Convince Referees and Respond to Reviews How One Researcher Is Looking to Improve Peer Review