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Are we being true to the peer-review process?

Peer review of manuscripts submitted for publication is an essential process that the nursing community, like other scientific communities, adopts to ensure the quality of publications. Such a process is intended to provide an impartial mechanism through which scholarly work is evaluated by colleagues who may be selected in recognition of their expertise in the content and/or research methods to be reviewed. Authors and end users endorse the peer-review process as a testimonial to the quality of published work. It is extremely important that we preserve the integrity of the peer-review process and practise due diligence every step of the way. To that end, editors, reviewers and authors share a common responsibility toward ensuring that peer reviews are as rigorous and meaningful as possible.

Check to ensure quality of reviewers

Editors are responsible for making sure that reviewers are suitably qualified to review a manuscript or a component of one (for example, content versus research methods and data analysis). Editors are also in charge of assessing and evaluating the quality and appropriateness of reviewers’ comments, especially those of first-time reviewers. For their part, reviewers need to be candid in assessing their own expertise and knowledge before agreeing to perform a review on a manuscript. Reviewers are expected to provide informed opinions, and they should not make comments or request changes based on intuition or guessing. They should also stop short of requesting changes or revisions that may not be supported by evidence.

Likewise, authors have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that they have given their work their best effort before submitting it for review. Authors are therefore encouraged to carefully review their own

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Check to ensure quality of reviewers

Editors are responsible for making sure that reviewers are suitably qualified to review a manuscript or a component of one (for example, content versus research methods and data analysis). Editors are also in charge of assessing and evaluating the quality and appropriateness of reviewers’ comments, especially those of first-time reviewers. For their part, reviewers need to be candid in assessing their own expertise and knowledge before agreeing to perform a review on a manuscript. Reviewers are expected to provide informed opinions, and they should not make comments or request changes based on intuition or guessing. They should also stop short of requesting changes or revisions that may not be supported by evidence.

Likewise, authors have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that they have given their work their best effort before submitting it for review. Authors are therefore encouraged to carefully review their own work and to seek proper internal reviews by qualified colleagues before submission. While the roles of editors and authors are extremely important, it is essentially the reviewers who can make or break the peer-review process. Failure of reviewers to provide well-informed opinions can ultimately jeopardise the integrity of the peer-review process. Ill-informed comments or poor judgement by some reviewers can lead to the publication of sub-optimal manuscripts or to the unnecessary delay/rejection of potentially valuable manuscripts. In recent years, there have been several examples in which one reviewer would make no comment, while another reviewer of the same manuscript would request extensive reviews. Such wide ranging discrepancies present a major challenge to the credibility of the peer-review process.

It is especially concerning when some reviewers request revisions that show that they lack understanding of the methods, statistical analyses, and/ or research content being reviewed. While authors can always disagree with reviewers, they should not be put in a position where they have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to refute reviewers’ comments and defend common knowledge.

There is no doubt that nurse reviewers are peers who kindly volunteer their time and effort to improve knowledge and learning within the discipline. Their reviews often lead to significant improvements in the quality of publications and provide valuable learning experiences for authors. It is therefore important that reviewers know that decisions about whether or not a paper is published or rejected are largely dependent on their comments. It is especially important that they base their comments on sound knowledge of the research methods and/or content that they review. It is also important that they know their own strengths and limitations. When in doubt, reviewers must seek advice from colleagues who have the necessary knowledge or expertise.

Peer-review process needs volunteers

It is no secret that nurse academics and clinicians have busy work and non-work schedules. It is always a struggle to meet the increasing demand for reviewers in light of the significant increase in the number of peer-reviewed journals in nursing. But, it is important that we meet our obligations toward the advancement of nursing scholarship and practice. It is therefore vital that colleagues with the right knowledge, experience and credentials step up to the plate and volunteer in the peer-review process. Such volunteerism is important for the dissemination of valid evidence-based nursing knowledge and practice.

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