Peer review is an integral component of the checking of articles prior to publication, ensuring the quality and validity of scientific and scholarly record. Often “peer review” is used as shorthand for the whole checking process but in fact the review of an article by peers is only one part of that process. Reviewers provide invaluable assessment of aspects including readability, reproducibility, contribution and validity. Different aspects of the paper are checked by others in the process. In this post we list some of the things reviewers are not expected to do.
Most journals will have formatting requirements in their author guidelines. These may include such things as the word limit, the recommended structure and the referencing style. Any such submission requirements will be checked by the editorial office upon submission so by the time the paper is sent to reviewers any formatting issues will have been dealt with. In any case, if accepted, the paper will be typeset according the journal stylesheet so nit-picking over style and format at review stage would be wasted effort.
Having said this, if the structure of the paper interferes with its readability then this is definitely worth commenting on.
- Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
In the same vein, journal articles will be copyedited prior to publication. In some cases this will be a technical edit; in most cases it will be a general language edit. This means that minor language issues, such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar will be corrected prior to publication and so reviewers are not expected to devote time to such corrections.
It is helpful if reviewers note language issues that fundamentally affect the meaning of the paper, such as missing negatives, misspelled technical terms, or unclear prose.
It would be simply unreasonable to expect reviewers to pick up all instances of plagiarism. Even with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge, this would not be possible. Many journals now employ plagiarism checking software to routinely check submissions for plagiarism and other overlaps with previously published material.
Reviewers are encouraged to point out anything they find suspicious to the journal’s editorial office.
- Ethical Standards
All good journals seek to uphold high ethical standards for the research they publish and so will require declarations about the ethical standards relevant to their fields. These might include such things as a conflict of interests statement, clinical trial registration, and patient consent forms. These submission requirements will be checked by the editorial office on submission.
Again, reviewers are encouraged to point out anything they find unethical to the editorial office.
- Rerun Research
Science is an inductive method. Reproducibility is essential to the process of doing science, which is why accurate and detailed reporting of the research methodology is a key component of any scientific paper. Reproducing the research with the same result increases evidential basis of the conclusions. So in an ideal world it would be great to rerun scientific research before its results are published. But that just isn’t practical, which is why reviewers aren’t expected to do it.
The most any reviewer can do is ensure that the research methodology is sound and that the implications drawn from the results are valid.
- Make The Final Decision
Reviewers provide invaluable advice to editors about whether an article should be published. Ultimately it is the editor who decides whether something is to be published. Most journals will solicit more than one review prior to making a decision, and the editor may solicit a further review if two reviewers disagree. The recommendation that a reviewer provides will always be advisory; the editor may make a different decision.
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