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Peer Review Week: Samantha Warne

Written by Samantha Warne  |  Editor, European Medical Journal  |

Why is peer review an important aspect of the publication process?

At the European Medical Journal, we aim to publish high-quality papers, and peer review is an essential part of this. It allows peers in the field to raise questions to the authors and challenge aspects of the paper that are unclear, and enables the editorial team to make an informed, unbiased decision on the paper. For the authors, it means they have constructive feedback to help them improve the quality of their paper, which can only be a good thing. For the peer reviewer, it means they get the chance to read the latest work in their field.

How do you select high-quality peer reviewers?

It is important that the peer reviewer is an expert in the field they are asked to review a paper in. At the EMJ we have a database of high-quality peer reviewers chosen by our Editorial Board and through research from our editorial team. We always read their publication record, find out whether they have had experience in reviewing previously, and ask for a CV. We are always looking for new peer reviewers to join our team. If you are interested, please do contact us!

What do you look for in a good review? What advice would you give to someone reviewing their first paper?

A good review should be constructive and offer suggestions on how the author can improve their paper. All publishers will have their own list of criteria that they ask the reviewers to score the paper on or comment on. A ‘reject’ or ‘accept’ with no further comments as to why the reviewer has suggested this decision is not a useful review. Here at the EMJ we ask our peer reviewers to use the following criteria:

  • Impartiality and breadth of coverage.
  • Substantiation of all claims through referenced primary literature.
  • Scientific validity.
  • Originality, significance, and importance.

The most useful reviews are those that provide the Editor (and author) with detailed feedback to back-up the critique of the paper.

My advice to someone reviewing for the first time is to start by reading the publisher’s peer review guidelines and the criteria that they are asking you to score and review a paper against. I would also encourage you to read the invitation to see if there are any additional aspects that the Editor would like you to comment on or they are concerned about. If you believe there may be a conflict of interest between you and the authors, raise this to the Editor as soon as possible. If there is a section of the paper you are unable to review, perhaps because it’s out of your area of expertise, highlight this when you send your feedback back to the Editor. Once you have completed the review, ask a colleague or supervisor experienced in peer review to take a look over your comments. Don’t be afraid to ask the Editor for feedback on your review.  We are always happy to help!

From a publishing standpoint, what is your opinion on preprints?

Preprints are papers in preparation before they have undergone peer review which are posted online for others to comment on. There are a number of preprint servers and websites. My opinion is that preprints can be a useful way to discuss research and are a good opportunity for authors to improve their research and papers before submitting to a journal. We receive many papers each week and can only select a small number to be published, so any assistance authors have in improving the quality of their papers will help get their paper published. However, all publishers will undergo their own rigorous peer review process regardless of preprints. Readers of a preprint need to be aware that it is unpublished work that may never get published and that further changes will inevitably be made if the preprint does go on to publication.

How would you improve the peer review process?

One thing the EMJ are looking to do in the future is to use patients and patient groups as part of the peer review process, alongside academic peer reviewers. Some publishers are already doing this and it is a great opportunity for patients to have a ‘voice’ and comment on what the paper means to them. This will only be positive in strengthening the patient–healthcare relationship.