Peer review: how to make a decision

This tutorial will consider the decisions that are made following peer review – how you can use peer review reports to inform your decision to accept or reject manuscripts. It will also look at how you manage difficult decisions, such as rejecting articles and dealing with appeals.

Tutorial introduction

Objective: By the end of this tutorial you will feel more confident in using peer review to advise (but not determine) your editorial decisions.

It is important to remember that while peer reviewers advise on the validity of the manuscript, the decision to accept or reject lies with you, the Editor.

Peer review was not in widespread use until the middle of the twentieth century – before that the journal editors themselves (with occasional comment from colleagues) would make publishing decisions.

So why do we put so much store on using peer review to make decisions now?

The answer lies largely in the increase of articles and the specialisation of science. Both changes mean that editors need more external advice to help make informed – and correct – decisions about what to publish, and what needs modification (or outright rejection).

In this tutorial we will be considering how you, as an Editor, make good judgements using the peer review system to assist you.

The BioMed Central workflow uses the following processes:

  1. Pre-review assessment and initial checks (journals each have different methods of managing this “first cut”)
  2. Handling Editor selects the potential reviewers
  3. Potential reviewers are invited and when sufficient number agree, the manuscript is ‘out for review’
  4. Handling Editor receives the reviewers’ reports
  5. Handling Editor makes a decision based on the reviewer reports

The Handling Editor may be the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, or a Section Editor, or an Associate Editor – again, this varies with different journals.

The Handling Editor (whose identity may be known to the authors) is required to make the initial publishing decision, which may be agreed by the Section Editor or Editor-in-Chief. Both Associate Editors and Section Editors need to consider how reviewer reports are used in the decision-making process described in this tutorial.

Peer review is changing rapidly, and many journals are experimenting with new methods. If you are interested in this topic the following workshop discussion on the subject highlights some very interesting innovations (and opinions).


SpotOn London workshop discussion