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Manuscripts have been subjected to the peer review process prior to publication for over 300 years. Currently, the peer review process is used by almost all scientific journals, and The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy is no exception. Scholarly publication is the means by which new work is communicated and peer review is an important part of this process. Peer review is a vital part of the quality control mechanism that is used to determine what is published, and what is not. The purpose of this commentary is to provide a description of the peer review process, both generally, and as utilized by The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. It is the hope of the authors that this will assist those who submit scholarly works to understand the purpose of the peer review process, as well as to appreciate the length of time required for a manuscript to complete the process and move toward publication.
Manuscripts have been subjected to the peer review process prior to publication for over 300 years. The Royal Societies of Edinburgh and London first began seeking help from their membership with the selection process of articles for their publication in the early to mid‐18th century.1 Over time, other professional societies adopted the practice of peer review, however, as the process was introduced it was often disorganized and in most cases depended upon the chief editor. In the middle of the 20th century, the peer review process became more widespread and standardized.2 The main reason for the increased use of the peer review process is rooted in two main factors. The first of these is the proliferation of manuscripts. In the past, editors of new (and existing) journals often had to struggle to collect enough manuscripts to fill the pages of their journals and as such did not need to be selective. Subsequently, as the need for evidence‐based practice has evolved, submissions to scientific journals have increased to the point where editors need to be much more selective in what gets published in their journals. The second reason for the increased use of the peer review process is the explosion of new information and technology. Areas of expertise have expanded to become more specialized and sophisticated. Because of this, editors were no longer able to be experts in all areas and had to seek opinions and advice from others.1,2 Currently, the peer review process is used by almost all scientific journals. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) defines peer review as: “[Peer review is] the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are not part of the editorial staff”.3 The purpose of this clinical commentary is to provide a description of the peer review process, both generally, and as utilized by The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (IJSPT). It is the hope of the authors that this will assist those who submit scholarly works to understand the purpose of the peer review process, as well as to appreciate the length of time required for a manuscript to complete the process and move toward publication.
Scholarly publication is the means by which new work is communicated and peer review is an important part of this process. Peer review is an important part of the quality control mechanism that is used to determine what is published, and what is not. In the medical community, most scholarly work or research will not be seriously considered until it has been validated by peer review. Furthermore, the peer review process acts as a filter for interest and relevance to the field being targeted by a journal. Therefore, peer review should serve several purposes:4
The main functions of the peer review process are to help maintain standards and ensure that the reporting of research work is as truthful and accurate as possible. Peer review contributes to the ongoing process used by individual clinicians to assess what information to believe and what to view with skepticism. This occurs because individual clinicians with varied levels of experience know that a peer reviewed, published manuscript has been reviewed and deemed worthy by others, often with greater or more varied experience than they possess. While most clinicians have the ability to critically read a research manuscript, they cannot be expected to be experts in all areas and make judgments about topics about which they know little.5
The peer review process is similar for all journals, with some variation expected between journals. The procedure described here is the process used by IJSPT with manuscript submissions. Once an author submits a manuscript through the online submission process, it is automatically logged in and checked to make sure that the submission is complete and has been prepared according to the IJSPT submission instructions. At this time a receipt of manuscript acknowledgement is sent to the author to let them know that their manuscript has been received. Each manuscript is then read by an editor (either individually or in consultation) to assess its suitability for the journal according to the guidelines determined by the editorial policy. This is an important step to ensure that (1) the content falls within the scope of the journal, (2) the manuscript follows editorial policy and procedural guidelines, and (3) that it does not contain an unacceptable level of overlap with manuscripts that are already in press. A manuscript could be rejected without additional review for one or more of the previous reasons, and the author notified.
While manuscripts can be rejected without involving additional reviewers, they cannot be accepted for publication without additional review. So if a manuscript is not rejected when first received, it is then sent out for review to a minimum of two additional reviewers who are part of the journal's cadre of reviewers. Review by Associate Editors or staff may compliment this process. Within the medical and scientific communities, debate continues as to the precise form that a peer review should take. The closed review process is the traditional form of peer review adopted by most journals. One prominent area of contention is the subject of blinding. The most common model seems to be the single‐blinded review, in which the reviewer's identities are withheld from the authors but the reviewers are aware who wrote the paper they are evaluating.6 This system has been heavily criticized for having the potential for bias because work originating from certain authors, institutions, or geographic regions may be treated more or less critically. The second type of blinding is the double‐blind review. With a double‐blind review the identity of the authors is also masked during the review process. Both the authors and the reviewers are unaware of each other's identity. This type of review has been popularly endorsed in author surveys and is the model employed by the IJSPT.6 While the double‐blind process does appear to be a much fairer method of assessment as compared to the single blind review, this peer review process does have some limitations. Manuscripts that draw heavily on the submitting authors previous research may be difficult to mask effectively while still giving the reviewers the information they need to evaluate the study thoroughly.6,7,8 Since the reviewers are often content experts within a given topic area, they may get enough clues from the citations in the manuscript and/or from their knowledge of the work going on in that topic area to hypothesize as to whom the author may be. Therefore, although it has been suggested that blinding reviewers to author identity leads to better opinions and reviews, this assertion has not been proven in trials.9,10 Much can be done to help with this problem through careful attention to the manner in which earlier work is referenced in a paper, although some authors may intentionally make their identity easier to discern if they feel their reputation (and citing their previous publications liberally) will garner better treatment from the reviewers.
Once reviewers are chosen and they accept their review assignment, the real process begins. Most reviewers use some form of checklist that covers some or all of the considerations offered in Appendix 1. Note that this checklist is best utilized with papers that are submitted in the category of Original Research, and different criteria or salient points for assessment may be utilized for other types of submissions such as Case Reports, Clinical Commentaries, and Clinical Suggestions.
The reviewers return their recommendations and reports to the editor (via the online submission system), who assesses them collectively, and then makes a decision, either on his or her own or in consultation with other editors on whether to reject the manuscript (either outright or with encouragement to resubmit), to withhold judgment pending major or minor revisions, to accept it pending satisfactorily completed revisions, or to accept it as written. Rarely, if ever, is a manuscript accepted as written! For manuscripts accepted pending revision, the authors must submit a revised manuscript that will go through all or some of the stages above. Once a manuscript has been revised satisfactorily (more than one revision may or may not be allowed) it will be accepted and put into the production process to be prepared for publication. An outline of this process can be seen in Figure 1. Despite the apparent simplicity in this process, the actual steps may be quite elaborate and involve a number of people and alternative procedures, thus requiring substantial time to complete.
While the peer review process is unlikely to change the basic nature of a given submission, in many cases the authors may add analysis or results, clarify thoughts or parameters, revise the statistical testing methods, increase the number of subjects, or lengthen the time of clinical follow‐up in response to reviewer's requests. Most typically, thoughtful comments provided by reviewers lead to improvements in the presentation of the work in several ways: clarity in writing and descriptions are enhanced, relevant literature is discussed more thoroughly, limitations of methodology are acknowledged, and broad or over‐reaching conclusions are moderated. This can only happen when knowledgeable reviewers take time to participate in the peer review process and evaluate submissions with care and sensitivity. The editors and reviewers of IJSPT are committed to utilization of a stringent yet fair review process in order to assist those who submit scholarly work for publication.
Title: Does it accurately reflects the purpose, design, results, and conclusions of the study?
Abstract: Does it correctly and succinctly summarize the salient points of the study?
Introduction: Does it provide adequate background and rationale for performing the study?
Study design and methodology: Is the sample described in appropriate detail; procedures and data analysis described clearly and in sufficient detail?
Soundness of the Results: the outcome of the statistical analysis are presented appropriately and interpreted accurately.
Discussion and Conclusion: The implications of the study are consistent with the purpose, methods, and data analysis.