Prepublication peer review has been part of science for a long time. Philosophical Transactions, the first peer-reviewed journal, published its first paper in 1665. But peer review may be even older still, because there are records of physicians in the Arab world reviewing the effectiveness of each other’s treatments in the 9th century.
Peer review is a critical part of the modern scientific process. For science to progress, research methods and findings need to be closely examined to decide on the best direction for future research. After a study has gone through peer review and is accepted for publication, scientists and the public can be confident that the study has met certain standards, and that the results can be trusted.
After an editor receives a manuscript, their first step is to check that the manuscript meets the journal’s rules for content and format. If it does, then the editor moves to the next step, which is peer review. The editor will send the manuscript to one or more experts in the field to get their opinion. The experts – called peer reviewers – will then prepare a report that assesses the manuscript, and return it to the editor. After reading the peer reviewer's report, the editor will decide to do one of three things: reject the manuscript, accept the manuscript, or ask the authors to revise and resubmit the manuscript after responding to the peer reviewer feedback. If the authors resubmit the manuscript, editors will sometimes ask the same peer reviewers to look over the manuscript again to see if their concerns have been addressed.
Some of the problems that peer reviewers may find in a manuscript include errors in the study’s methods or analysis that raise questions about the findings, or sections that need clearer explanations so that the manuscript is easily understood. From a journal editor’s point of view, comments on the importance and novelty of a manuscript, and if it will interest the journal’s audience, are particularly useful in helping them to decide which manuscripts are likely to be highly read and cited, and thus which are worth publishing.