Indian Journal of Pathology and Microbiology

: 2020  |  Volume : 63  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 347--349

Peer review: A critical step in the editorial process

Ranjan Agrawal 
 MD; FIC Path; MIAC, DHA, Professor, Department of Pathology, Rohilkhand Medical College and Hospital, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, India

Correspondence Address:
Ranjan Agrawal
MD; FIC Path; MIAC, DHA, Professor, Department of Pathology, Rohilkhand Medical College and Hospital, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh

How to cite this article:
Agrawal R. Peer review: A critical step in the editorial process.Indian J Pathol Microbiol 2020;63:347-349

How to cite this URL:
Agrawal R. Peer review: A critical step in the editorial process. Indian J Pathol Microbiol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 21 ];63:347-349
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It is always a great pleasure for the authors when they receive an acceptance letter of their manuscript. On the contrary, on receiving of 'Not Accepted' letter, the immediate comment from the authors is “why was my paper rejected'. It is actually a chain or sequence of events behind this pathway of acceptance or rejection. A strict peer-review process is important for this entire process. It is the most commonly used method of selecting scientific manuscripts for publication. Peer-review systems may differ slightly across different journals. A formal training is usually not provided nor required. The expertise comes with continuous work and experience. The main purpose of writing this editorial insight is not to tell the details of the review process but instead to make the readers aware of the significance of a good review process for all those involved in the publishing – authors who come to know about the critics and also their lacunae in the study; the editorial board that gets priority list of articles to be published in subsequent issues; the reviewers themselves that helps them being in good position in the association and journal and later to be included in the editorial board itself and finally, the publishing house who do not have to bother about the pending lot to clear.

Peer reviewers are typically identified based on their expertise in a particular field. They provide useful guidance related to the scholarly work, evaluating the methodology and importance of the publication, and making recommendations regarding decisions on the manuscript.[1],[2] During the online submission process, many journals ask or even require the nomination of preferred and non-preferred reviewers. If authors suggest preferred reviewers, they are apt to recommend reviewers they know, maybe in the same department or reviewers who share their way of thinking. Authors may suggest non-preferred reviewers who have some kind of conflict of interest, or reviewers whom authors anticipate will provide potentially negative comments. Journal editors are not bound to accept author recommendations regarding choosing the same reviewers. We in the Indian Journal of Pathology and Microbiology (IJPM) follow the system of adding names of these suggested reviewers in our panel list as per their specialty, thus building up our database.

In the single-blind review (when reviewers know the identity of authors, but authors do not know the identity of reviewers), more prestigious group researchers are apt to be favored during the peer-review process. Double blind is the method of peer-review, wherein both the authors and the reviewers do not know each other or the institute to which the manuscript belongs to. I personally believe that the double-blind approach is the most ethical approach, because the policy of blinding is fair for both sides and it calls for an unbiased and independent review system.

It is important to first assess whether the reviewers are qualified enough to review the manuscript or not.[2],[3],[4] This means that the reviewer is of the same specialty as that of the manuscript with a sufficient period of experience in that subject and most important of all holds expertise in that particular field as that of the paper. In simple terms it means that suppose a manuscript is entitled. “Juvenile Granulosa cell tumours of Ovary: Morphological variations in histopathology”, the reviewers selected for this particular article should be pathologist i.e., histopathologist with an experience in gynecologic pathology. Even a neuropathologist would not be suitable for reviewing this manuscript. Reviewers are typically provided an abstract of the manuscript with the invitation to review. They should only accept invitations to review if they have expertise in the manuscript's area of focus. A good review provides constructive comments to help the author resolve weaknesses in the work. Comments for authors and confidential comments for Editors are submitted separately and form an important part of the review process.

Generally, invited reviewers do not know how many peers are involved in the review process and there is no interaction between the reviewers. This scenario sometimes leads to reviewers providing diametrically opposite opinions on the same manuscript. These divergent opinions create difficulty both for the authors, who need to answer these comments that may at times be incompatible or opposite; and for the editors, who need to decide the fate of the manuscript based on these comments. Editors then face difficulty in choosing which reviewer's comments to follow or give adequate weightage. Sometimes, it depends on the reviewer's previous comments on any other article, expertise in the subject, and type of remarks written. At times it is the language of remarks also that is important. Few reviewers choose to write – NIL, no comments or derogatory lines such as paper is rubbish. It is a copy and paste type of article; or, it has wasted my time. Reviewers are requested not to provide such remarks but to provide direct comments.

Reviewer feedback should be objective and constructive, with actionable suggestions for addressing flaws.[2],[3],[4],[5],[6] When a statement in the manuscript is ambiguous and may lead to reader confusion, the reviewer should suggest specific suggestions so as to improve the clarity.[3],[4],[5],[6] In my experience, few reviewers do the editing or rewriting themselves thus improving the scientific quality of the manuscript. While assessing the scientific value of the work it is important to consider the following points – study design, reproducibility of the methodology employed, and whether the results and the conclusion match with each other. Each review process can be decided based on the entire manuscript or in individual subheads. Such as some major parts of the article are satisfactory while some areas require modification. Most of the time it is the methodology, results/observations and discussion part that needs corrections. Young authors or first time submissions usually commit technical errors i.e., in the article formatting and typeset. Once corrected this lands into resubmission which if acceptable is moved further for peer-review.

The main purpose of getting articles reviewed is not to judge their acceptability or rejection but to check the credibility and also the validity of the conclusions. For case reports, merely rarity is not important, neither is to report a case of a common tumour in an unusually site, but rather to access for any new message or methodology that adds substantial knowledge to the existing one. A good review report identifies major or minor deficits in the manuscript and also in determining the scientific credibility and relevance of the manuscript.[1],[3],[6] Manuscripts should clearly state the aims and objectives or the clinical problem and then describe how the work was conducted. It should stimulate interest in the reviewer and likewise among the readers. Reviewers should also note ambiguities and queries that arise during their detailed review and provide suggestions for improvement.[6] It is better to send on article for review to at least two reviewers, so that there is a better analysis of the manuscript. The reviewer may omit comments on the language, writing style, and grammar unless the clarity, result or the final impact is considerably affected due to these.[4],[6]

Reviewers are subject specialist so have a better knowledge of the topic in discussion and also regarding the recent updates related to it. With their expertise reviewers support the Editor-in-Chief by providing a well-drafted critical lacunae or suggest to them about what matter if incorporated in the text can add value to the manuscript. Many of the observations or comments made by the reviewers are incorporated in the revised file, while some queries are to satisfy the inquisitiveness of the reviewers. Finally, they recommend and suggest the Editor regarding the acceptability or rejection of an article or may be to change the type of manuscript e.g.: convert a case report to Images or Letter to the Editor as per the suitability. Reviewers should give their comments on each section of the manuscript that needs to be modified especially like title, keywords, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, graphs, tables, figures and references. The title and abstract are the most important elements of the manuscript. Throughout the critique, reviewers should be honest and direct and at the same time be considerate when providing feedback to authors. The summary should balance both positive and constructive feedback consistent with the overall evaluation of the manuscript (e.g., the majority of comments should be positive if the recommendation is to accept as such or accept with minor revisions). The comments should be organized in a logical manner and numbered accordingly.[3],[4],[6]

In case the Editor-in-chief feels that the comments provided by the reviewers are answerable and the authors need to be given a chance to respond, the article is then returned back to the authors with the reviewers comments. With the critical comments from at least 2 independent reviewers who are experts in their own field, the Editor decides the final outcome of the article i.e., 'accepted' or 'rejected'. It is not possible for the Editors to read and analyze each and every article and take a decision on his/her own. Also, the Editor cannot assess a manuscript that is not of his/her specialty. The doubts raised by the reviewers not only helps in improving the quality of the manuscript, but also likely to raise many more issues that might have been ignored otherwise. Young reviewers has been observed to provide stronger peer reviews.[7],[8]

Many a times an article undergoes 'desk rejection'. Desk rejection means the article is rejected in the first go even without the need for the review process. This occurs where the manuscript falls out of the purview or scope of the journal concerned; there has been publication of similar article in the recent issues of the same journal; there is mere compilation of data or similar such reasons thereof.

Peer-review system may have some potential limitations. Some reviewers may feel uncomfortable to expose their personal limitations such as poor written English or that their specialty was different than that of the manuscript.[2],[3],[4] Many of these situations are related to potential conflicts of interest of the parties involved in the process. Peer-review systems may differ slightly across different journals but, they all possess a similar structure. A good review requires time and dedication from those involved. Reviewers are typically given few weeks to complete their peer review. They should respond to peer-review invitations in a timely manner, especially if they wish to decline the invitation.[2],[6] At this point of time I would like to stress further that till the time an article in in the review phase authors should maintain patience and give adequate time for the process to be completed. Another important aspect is to maintain the confidentiality and the manuscript should not be passed on to the trainees. Potential reviewer conflicts may include close personal (e.g., spouse) or professional (e.g., mentor–mentee, institutional colleague) relationships with one or more of the authors.

We in IJPM adhere to the highest standards of peer review and publication ethics. Each and every article undergoes strict peer-review process and with every effort all the accepted articles undergo modification improving their scientific content and fulfilling their lacunae. Good articles then have a wider readability and citations.


1Del Mar C, Hoffmann TC. A guide to performing a peer review of randomised controlled trials. BMC Med 2015;13:248.
2Hames I. COPE ethical guidelines for peer reviewers (2013). review%20guidelines_0.pdf. [Last accessed on 2017 Feb 10].
3Nicholas KA, Gordon WS. A quick guide to writing a solid peer review. Eos Trans AGU 2011:92:233-40.
4Wager E, Godlee F, Jefferson T. How to Survive Peer Review. London, England: BMJ; 2002. p. 13-9.
5Sylvia LM, Herbel JL. Manuscript peer review – a guide for health care professionals. Pharmacotherapy 2001;21:395-404.
6Wiley Author Services. Step by step guide to reviewing a manuscript. manuscript. Html. [Last accessed on 2017 Feb 13].
7Black N, van Rooyen S, Godlee F, Smith R, Evans S. What makes a good reviewer and a good review for a general medical journal? JAMA 1998;280:231-3.
8Kliewer MA, DeLong DM, Freed K, Jenkins CB, Paulson EK, Provenzale JM. Peer review at the American journal of roentgenology: How reviewer and manuscript characteristics affected editorial decisions on 196 major papers. Am J Roentgenol 2004;183:1545-50.