Creating a Peer Review Pipeline

A crucial part of making sure that your journal is successful is having a peer review pipeline. The peer review process is one of the most important elements of having a reputable journal, and making sure that you have a good process is important.

When you’re running a journal, you want to make sure that it is able to attract submissions, and having a robust peer review process can help.

What is peer review?

Generally, peer review is the process used to check work done in any given field. For most journals, the process is simple. A manuscript is sent to experts in the same field for review. This review is often then provided to the journal in the form of a report and is then passed on to the authors of the paper. This report is used by the journal to make decisions regarding publication, and is also valuable to the authors to further improve their work.

Peer review reports are critical in academic publishing. They serve as important guardrails to ensure the validity and importance of research.

What is a peer review pipeline?

Knowing now what the peer review process is, you need to establish what this timeline looks like. The peer review pipeline is the “path” that all manuscripts need to follow during the peer-review process of publication. Because peer review is critical to a journal’s reputation, and you must ensure that your standards are kept at a high level, this pipeline starts long before a manuscript has been submitted. There are [three] important elements that you need to have before you even receive a manuscript.

  1. An editorial board for your journal;
  2. A list of potential peer reviewers;
  3. An established time frame for the process.

The editorial board

Your journal should have an editorial board of experts in the field to help you guide the journal forward. While it might feel like the journal is your baby, the editorial board is similar to a teacher—they’ll help to guide your journal towards success. From them, you can learn a great deal about the body of research that you hope your journal represents. It is important for an editorial board member (or multiple) be involved throughout the decision making process. Making sure that your editorial board members understand your journal’s peer review pipeline is crucial to a smooth process.

We will discuss this in depth later, but it is critical that you already have an editorial board. If you have not yet established one, you must do this as soon as possible. Without a series of experts to make decisions about the validity of submissions, you run the risk of decisions not being as informed as they could be.

Make sure that you have an established editorial board, as in addition to providing recommendations of possible peer review candidates.

List of potential peer reviewers

As time goes by, you’ll be able to develop a list of potential candidates that can help you with peer review. It is very important, however, that you make sure that these individuals are treated with respect and that their time is not wasted. There are two primary ways that peer reviewers can be treated poorly (without intending to). The first, is that they are called upon to do peer review for work that they are not experts of. It is important that you be aware of what people’s areas of expertise are. If you don’t pay attention to this and keep proper records, these academics may not want to help you in the future. The second thing to keep in mind is that peer review takes time. Make sure that you have a way of keeping track of when peer reviewers have been contacted.

If these peer reviewers receive near daily requests for help, they will stop helping you. Treat them and their time with respect. Make sure that your peer review pipeline has a robust system to support it.

A time frame for the peer review pipeline

While you want to be respectful of other people’s time, you also need to make sure that that of your clients is respected. You need to make sure that you have a reliable timeline that allows for both flexibility and a reliable publication timeline.

From the time that you send your initial request, how many days will you allow before you email in the case of no response? How many days will you allow for the peer reviewer to go over the manuscript? Five days? A week? Two weeks?

Make sure that you have a sense of what your peer reviewers can do, what you need, and how to balance the multiple parties in the process here.

What does the peer review pipeline look like?

This is a bit difficult to accurately describe, as every journal might need different amounts of time. Here, we present an example of what the stages look like, and what might be an acceptable window of time for each step of the peer review pipeline.

Information for the authors

Ensure that your response to an author’s submission includes a clear indication of when you will provide them with more information. For example, “Thank you for your submission. Your submission is currently being checked and we will be in touch within the next three to five business days with further details.” While the wording here isn’t that important, the details are critical. Your authors should know how much time you need to do the initial check of their submission. Here, you might want to give them more information about how to reach out if they have questions. Another important detail is what to do in the event that the “three to five business days” have gone by with no answer. Give them the information that they need, but also be clear about the process.

Clarity about how long things take

Make sure that you are providing realistic amounts of time for each stage of the process. While you might inform authors of a three- to five-day turnaround for information, your editorial board members might need a week to approve or reject the manuscript. Make sure that the amount of time allotted is clear. Once they are able to provide you with an approval, you can move on to the next stage.

Make sure reviewers understand what you need

Provide a clear and reasonably amount of time for the actual peer review process. Too short and a reviewer might decline to help. Too long and it delays the publication process unnecessarily. I might recommend one to two weeks, but make sure that you’re flexible. You can always include a caveat for a potential reviewer. If they need more time, be sure that they get it. Remember, it might take longer to find a new reviewer than to just give a few more extra days.

How does a journal management system help the peer review pipeline?

Any pipeline is as strong as the systems used to ensure that they are followed. Once you’ve established a pipeline, it is critical to make sure that the schedules and rules are followed carefully. If staff have difficulty remembering or following guidance, this can lead to delays. You do not want your reputation to be affected by ongoing delays in the process. Remember, people who have negative experiences are more likely to tell others of their experiences.

A journal management system can help you to keep your pipeline in order by automating many elements of the process. From keeping track of your list of peer reviewers to helping you to send out emails and reminders, a journal management system can help to keep your team on track. While a system like this is not necessarily for every team, these systems can often be tailored to individual journals, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency. For more details on how JAMS can help you with your project, let our team of experts help.

D.J. McPhee
29 January 2024Posted inPeer Review
Post authorD.J. McPhee