What is peer review and why do we need it?

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 9.24.30 AMBy Adar Ben-Eliyahu, Ph.D. Assistant Professor at University of Haifa

Peer review refers to a process used for evaluating published academic work, grant proposals, etc. You may think of this process as similar to that of a teacher looking over their students’ work, except that, instead of teachers and students, it is expert colleagues.

Who are the peers?

The peers in the peer review process are usually experts in the field of the work. If you conduct a study about mentoring, it makes sense to have others who are mentoring experts read your work. Similarly, grant proposals are reviewed by experts in the field to determine the merit of the proposed research and the feasibility of the research design. Experts in the field can evaluate whether there is an interest in the research question and whether the proposed research is logical and feasible within the proposed timeframe.

Importantly, most peer reviews of articles are conducted in a “blind” fashion. That is, the reviewers do not know who the authors are, and the authors do not know who is reviewing their work. Authors are required to omit any identifying information from the manuscript they submit for review. In this way, the reviewer can feel comfortable expressing their true opinion of the work.

How does the review process work?

The review process is long and straight-forward. As presented in the figure below, once the author submits the paper, it is received by the editor’s office. Today, submissions are completed online and most editorial offices reply within 2 weeks of the submission with any issues that may come up – for example, if there is a limit on word count or page limit that the author did not adhere to.

The editor then distributes the blinded draft of the paper to 2 or 3 expert peers in the field. Most journals request a response from the reviewer within 3 months. Reviewers are asked to note any aspect of the manuscript, including the theoretical background, framing of the paper, research methods, analytic techniques, conclusions, grammatical issues, etc. Reviewers generally write about 1-2 pages with general and specific comments noting the contribution of the paper to the field. The extent to which these issues/comments are meticulous versus general depends on the quality of the paper and the rigor of the journal.

Once the editor receives all of the reviews, s/he compiles a list of major issues (if any) and decides whether to accept or reject the paper, or allow for revisions.


As many as 80% of the articles submitted to top journal are rejected. A paper that is rejected cannot be resubmitted to the journal that rejected it. However, authors can (and are encouraged to) send their paper to another journal that may be less competitive or a better fit. The submission to rejection through peer review process generally takes anywhere from 3-8 months.

Revision and resubmit

Most papers that are eventually accepted must first go through revision. The editor will send the authors a letter compiling all of the issues that they think need to be addressed, as well as all of the reviewer comments for the authors to consider. All issues must be acknowledged with either a revision or an explanation, justifying why something was not revised. Most journals request that revisions be resubmitted within 3 months of the notification. After the revisions are submitted back to the editor (or the editorial office), the paper undergoes a second review by the previous reviewers (in most cases) and the the editor. At this point the reviewer can then reject the paper, invite further revisions, or reject the paper.


Once a paper has been through a favorable revision process, it is accepted for publication. The good news is that once a paper is accepted, the path to publication is generally swift. There may be some issues with formatting, word choices, typos, or basic additions or changes that might need to be revised for publication, but no major revisions should take place at this point.

What does it do for us?

Although long and arduous, the peer review process allows quality control of academic papers, work, and grant funding. However, this process is not without its faults.

The main downfall of peer review is that it can serve as a gate-keeper whereby ideas that are too innovative, and do not necessarily build on prior work, go unpublished. However, overall, peer review is a fine way to make sure that experts in the field are publishing their best work, as evaluated by their peers.

Pros Cons
Quality control Long
Confirms research is well planned Limits the ideas to currently accepted
Constructive suggestions improve manuscript