The external reviewer experience
Peer review is the key to maintaining the high academic standards of our scholarly journals, yet how often do we think about the external reviewer experience”?
External reviewers participate in peer review out of a sense of commitment to their area of expertise, and the overall desire to advance the field. Though there is a certain prestige associated with being asked to review a manuscript, it is still “pro bono” work done in addition to a busy schedule. Let’s take a look at the reviewer experience and be sure that we are keeping the process of reviewing a manuscript easy enough that our external reviewers will want to contribute their time and energy to our journal in the future.
What are the necessary elements of the external review?
Asking an external expert to review a document is a complicated process by nature, but let’s simplify it and define the necessities.
First, every reviewer should be made aware of the journal’s general guidelines. Here it can be useful to include a reminder about confidentiality in addition to a request that the suggested revisions be characterized as either “essential” or “desirable”. One might also include a list of, “important topics to consider” upon reading the manuscript, such as: the originality of the study, the appropriateness of the approach, the soundness of the conclusion, etc. Covering all of the necessary topics of consideration in one quick set of guidelines gives your reviewer a good point of departure as well as a sort of “checklist” to refer back to as the manuscript is read.
The purpose of the comments section is two-fold. On the one hand, we would like the reviewer to help the author improve the manuscript for the benefit of the academic community at large, but as editors, we would also like the reviewer’s feedback about the publishing potential of this manuscript. Keep the comments section manageable. It should not only be shorter than one page, but could also be broken into two sections: one with comments destined for the authors and another, confidential section, with comments to the editor. By breaking the comments into two sections, the reviewer will be encouraged to share valuable insight with the editor that otherwise might not have been shared.
Inevitably, there will be a few standard questions to be asked on every evaluation form. Choose your questions well, and make sure they are the most meaningful for your journal. These questions might deal with topics such as manuscript novelty, relevance for journal scope, or the validity of conclusion. Whatever they should be, do not waste your reviewer’s time with a long list. Restrict the number of questions to 4 or 5 essentials and add a multiple choice type of answer options to make answering an easy task.
In the end, it is always advisable to ask for an overall recommendation from your reviewer. Knowing whether your external expert concludes that the manuscript should be accepted, rejected or revised provides key input and together with the other reviewer recommendatin, setting the tone for the next step in the process.
“Let’s take a look at the reviewer experience and be sure that we are keeping the process of reviewing a manuscript easy enough that our external reviewers will want to contribute their time and energy to our journal in the future.”
Having access to the well-guided and well documented thoughts of an external reviewer will not only guide the author in improving his or her manuscript for the benefit of the field, but will also provide expert input to editors responsible for moving the journal forward. Remember that these external experts are busy individuals working ad honorem. Cover the essentials with a well organized evaluation process, but keep it light and easy so that reviewers are likely to contribute again in the future.