The peer review process refers to the procedure through which a manuscript is assessed by editors and peers (a panel of experts such as university professors, authors and practitioners in the field) to determine its suitability for publication. While acceptance criteria for manuscripts might vary across different publications, typically, peers evaluate submissions based on criteria of originality, methodological rigour, writing quality and the importance of the contribution (Carr et al, 2018, p. 606).
Box 13.1 – Peer Review Terminologies
- Peer review: the process where manuscripts are assessed by experts for quality, contributions, originality and scientific rigor.
- Double-blind peer review: This is when neither the reviewers nor the authors know each other. The editor acts as a conduit through which the author submits the manuscript and the reviewers submit feedback. Steps are usually taken to anonymize documents. Most academic journals use a double blind review process.
- Single-blind peer review: This is when the reviewers know who authored the paper but the author does not know who the reviewers are. This is often the case for book submissions.
- Non-blind peer review: This is when both the reviewers and the author know each other. For example, calls for chapters in an edited book usually disclose the name of the book editor(s) so the author knows who is reviewing their work. Neither the submission nor the feedback are anonymous.
- Desk reject: This is when a manuscript is rejected by the editor without it being sent out for peer review.
- Revise and resubmit: This is when the editor provides the author with the opportunity to revise the original manuscript to take into account feedback received from peers. A revise and resubmit does not guarantee acceptance. Often, it is sent to reviewers again for another round of peer-review.
- Acceptance: When the editor accepts the author for publication (usually subjected to copyediting) and/or minor revisions.
- Copyediting: This is the process of revising the manuscript to improve its quality, correct grammatical and factual errors and improve its general readability.
- Proof-reading: The author is given a final opportunity to read the copy-edited paper and make changes before publication. This is intended to catch any errors made in the editing process.
- Predatory journal: a journal deemed to have compromised the peer-review process and is not recommended for publishing your manuscript with.
- Open Access publication: A publication that has an open license for copyright resulting in the reduction or removal of barriers to access (i.e., there is no fee or requirement to have an institutional account to access it)
- APC (Article Processing charge): also called ‘publication fees’. This is a fee sometimes charged to authors on acceptance of their articles of publication.
Is my work publishable in a peer-reviewed journal or book?
Before preparing your manuscript or searching for a source to publish, you need to determine whether your project is publishable. There are many factors that can affect whether the project is publishable. Two factors that can affect whether your paper will be favorably received are: novelty and methodology. By novelty, we mean, is the paper advancing new knowledge? Is it making an original contribution to the field through either empirical findings or theoretical and methodological advances? Many undergraduate projects are assessed on your ability to to utilize existing methods and theories, analyze and interpret findings and drawing conclusions. There is often little requirement to make an original contribution to the field. Hence, a great honours thesis might not be publishable in a traditional academic journal (unless it offer new insights into an existing problem). For example, let us assume that you are researching international students’ friendship making ability in host countries. You might have surveyed 50 students on your campus and analyzed their results in a sophisticated way. But, if this is merely replicating the hundreds of studies already published on this topic, peer-reviewed journals will likely have little appetite for your work. Hence, it is important to think about the advice offered in Chapters 1 & 2 about finding your niche and ensuring that you are making a contribution. While it is okay to replicate existing studies, you must be able to demonstrate that the replication is adding to existing knowledge, i.e., you must be adding new insights. This could mean comparing different social contexts (e.g., is there something unique about your study population or the environment? Are you making use of a theory in a new way? Are you utilizing methods that have not been used before? Have you made discoveries that were not known?). Your research needs to be filling a gap, otherwise, you are unlikely to impress editors and peer-reviewers.
Second, having a novel research does not automatically mean that your project is publishable. Your research needs to be supported by suitable evidence. Hence, how you collect the data, the size of the sample and methodological concerns are important. For example, going back to the study of international friendship formation. Let us assume that you are investigating intergenerational effects (i.e., parents’ own international students experiences) and no such work exists. Certainly, this is exciting, and editors and peer reviewers might be excited about this work. However, if you interviewed only 5 of your friends, while this might be acceptable for your undergraduate thesis, editors and peer-reviewers would be less impressed by the small sample size. Your work might be dismissed for not being rigorous enough and for lacking sufficient data to produce robust findings. Likewise, if you utilize census data on a relatively small group e.g., St. Vincent international students studying in Fort McMurray (say n=50), even if your findings are impressive, the small sample size will not allow you to perform rigorous statistical analysis e.g. regressions. Hence, methodology must support the novelty of your research. Answering these questions can prevent you from wasting time preparing an article for a peer review journal.
Please note that peer-review is not the only option for publishing your findings. You might also consider writing a research report for a community organization of concern, writing a letter to the editor of a paper (or Op Ed), blogging your findings etc. Certainly, there are other questions that you must answer before you decide to pursue the peer-reviewed publication route (we discuss some of these later in the chapter); however, we offer these two as foundational questions to help guide your decision making.
Carr, D., Heger Boyle, E., Cornwell, B., Correll, S., Crosnoe, R., Freese, J., and Waters, M.C. (2018). The Art and Science of Social Research. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.