Comment

Reluctant to peer review? How to enhance the experience

An overview of the nursing research peer review process, a guide to the challenges faced by the academic publishing community and the state of peer review
Nurse peer reviewers experience an array of challenges with the review process

An overview of the nursing research peer review process, a guide to the challenges faced by the academic publishing community and the state of peer review

There has been an exponential growth of academic publishing internationally, and the mantra of ‘publish or perish’ has been exacerbated by the greater metrification of academic output.

Nurse peer reviewers experience an array of challenges with the review process, which has affected their availability, consistency of review and the turnaround time for review outcomes. To help overcome these obstacles this commentary aims to describe the peer review process, provide a background to the growing challenges faced by the academic publishing community, and outline the state of peer review in nursing research.

It also offers recommendations on how to enhance

An overview of the nursing research peer review process, a guide to the challenges faced by the academic publishing community and the state of peer review

Nurse peer reviewers experience an array of challenges with the review process
Picture: iStock

There has been an exponential growth of academic publishing internationally, and the mantra of ‘publish or perish’ has been exacerbated by the greater metrification of academic output.

Nurse peer reviewers experience an array of challenges with the review process, which has affected their availability, consistency of review and the turnaround time for review outcomes. To help overcome these obstacles this commentary aims to describe the peer review process, provide a background to the growing challenges faced by the academic publishing community, and outline the state of peer review in nursing research.

It also offers recommendations on how to enhance the peer review experience which may in turn strengthen the peer review process and optimise review quality.

What is happening in academic peer review?

Peer review is a process by which a manuscript is evaluated by an author's peers in the same area of research or clinical specialty, which seeks to provide an independent, impartial and critical assessment of the quality of the work (Peh 2022). The editor-in-chief usually conducts a preliminary manuscript review, where it is assessed for suitability against the journal's aim and scope, before sending it to the editorial team who are tasked with seeking appropriate reviewers to evaluate the paper.

From a survey of 11,8000 researchers, Publons reported that 40.8% acknowledge the peer review process as part of their role as a researcher
Picture: iStock

The process, conduct and reliability of the peer review process has been under scrutiny, and the literature is replete with evidence either challenging or shedding light onto this topic (Bro and Hammarfelt 2022, Gonzalez et al 2022, Menon et al 2021, Dean and Forray 2018). This paper focuses on an area that has received much less attention, the difficulties in securing reviewers for manuscripts.

The growing metrification of academic output, subsequent exponential growth of research publications and the resounding mantra of publish or perish have not been met with a proportional expansion of the number of reviewers available (Bakker and Traniello 2019). As academics are increasingly time poor, priority is given to tasks that provide an individual return, such as submitting a paper for publication, compared to those with little clear reward, such as reviewing a paper.

Editors Dean and Forray reported a 48% growth rate in manuscript submissions between 2014 and 2016 in the Journal of Management Education, and yet only 7% of authors who submitted a manuscript to this journal have offered and completed a peer review (Dean and Forray 2018). Publons report that editors need to invite an average of 2.4 reviewers to guarantee a review was completed, which has increased from an average of 1.9 reviewers in 2013 (Publons 2018). It is forecast that by 2025 an editor would have to invite an average of 3.6 peer reviewers to get one review completed (Publons 2018).

There are various factors that motivate academics to participate in the peer review process. From a survey of 11,8000 researchers, Publons reported that 40.8% acknowledge the peer review process as part of their role as a researcher, and 35.1% of reviewers complete a peer review to reciprocate reviews of their own work (Publons 2018). However, only 32.9% of reviewers described participating in peer review to ensure the quality and integrity of research published in their field. Just under 14% of respondents reported undertaking peer review to progress their career and 11.9% do so to build relationships with editors and/or journals (Publons 2018).

These data highlight a need to find more defined benefits for reviewers to enhance uptake of peer-reviewing. In their editorial, Gonzalez et al explored current and emerging challenges in peer review in academia (Gonzalez et al 2022). The comments made in their work have motivated us to describe some of the specific challenges faced in nursing peer-review.

The state of peer review in nursing research

The success of peer-reviewed nursing journals is primarily measured by the volume of high-quality research manuscripts they publish (Petpichetchian et al 2022). There are numerous peer-reviewed journals in the nursing discipline, publishing research using diverse research methodologies and various research foci. While the peer review process in nursing research has evidently provided a gateway to the publication of diverse research across the globe, it too has been plagued by limitations. For example, difficulties in securing sufficient peer reviewers and poor interrater reliability between peer reviewers has been identified as an area of concern (Petpichetchian et al 2022).

There is often limited training or support offered to reviewers to develop their reviewing skills and minimal feedback about the reviewing process
Picture: iStock

Nurse peer reviewers have described challenges with the peer review process. Reviewers report a lack of time, poor fit between their expertise and the topic area of the paper, personal commitments, and poor-quality papers as reasons for declining review requests (Kearney et al 2008, Zaharie and Osoian 2016).

Additionally, the specific review requirements of various journals can be inconsistent and confusing, with reviewers often only asked to provide an unstructured review in a “logical or consistent manner” (Pierson 2022). There is often limited training or support offered to reviewers to develop their reviewing skills and minimal feedback about the reviewing process.

Lack of appropriate reward for review work

The editor of the International Journal of Older People Nursing highlights that although peer reviewers and editors work in partnership when evaluating submissions, efforts of peer reviewers receive inadequate recognition to compensate for the time and effort invested in the process (Kagan 2022).

‘Journals need to provide peer reviewers clear review guidelines. While some journals provide free online resources and/or training for peer review, these can at times be difficult to access or overly time consuming’

In a survey of 1,373 nurse peer reviewers, only 2.1% considered recognition and publication of their name in the journal as a rewarding factor of peer reviewing, and even fewer (1.8%) identified career advancement as a benefit from the reviewer role (Kearney et al 2008). However, Zaharie and Osoian found external rewards do not necessarily increase intrinsic motivation to review, and that curiosity in the findings, the quality of the comments are decreased for reviewers who are primarily driven by external rewards (Zaharie and Osoian 2016). Furthermore, they found that senior reviewers are primarily motivated to peer review due to the notion of ‘reciprocal duty’, while younger reviewers seek visibility and increased membership of the scientific community (Zaharie and Osoian 2016).

Such findings emphasise not only the perceived ‘limited’ rewards for reviewers but also the need to carefully consider the usefulness of external rewards on offer. Clearly, there is a need to analyse the appropriateness of potential strategies to be implemented to enhance researchers’ intrinsic motivation to participate in high-quality peer review.

Recommendations to enhance the peer review experience

Peer review can be an enriching experience as reviewers are given the opportunity to contribute to emerging new knowledge and help shape the discourse of the nursing profession. However, to optimise the experience, a number of factors need to be considered.

First, journals need to provide peer reviewers clear review guidelines. While some journals provide free online resources and/or training for peer review, these can at times be difficult to access or overly time consuming. Journals could support these resources by providing a structured review template in the invitation sent to peer reviewers. Editors need to ensure that peer reviewers are educated and skilled to provide professional and constructive comments, as failing to do so may dissuade nursing authors from revising their work and contribute meaningfully to nursing scholarship (Trotter 2021).

In our experience, all too often reviewers are sent papers for review that are of poor quality and perhaps should have been rejected by the editor prior to peer-review to avoid wasting reviewer time providing extensive feedback. Editors have a vital role in screening and excluding poorly written papers, as well as appropriately matching the reviewers’ self-reported expertise and publication track record with the manuscript (Trotter 2021, Zaharie and Osoian 2016).

Universities are well placed to cultivate peer review skills among nursing graduate students
Picture: iStock

Universities are well placed to cultivate peer review skills among nursing graduate students, such as using experiential learning through simulated peer review cases where graduates can develop skills to critically evaluate scientific evidence, improve broader research skills and enhance overall writing style (Trotter 2021).

Journals need to implement strategies to improve recognition for reviewers. Currently, inclusion on an annual publicised list of reviewers or complimentary access to journal is commonplace across different journals. Additionally, systems such as Web of Science can be used to keep a verified, official record of peer review contributions that can be accessed for inclusion in performance reporting.

Conclusion

Peer reviewers provide an important contribution to the professional literature. However, greater attention to the reviewers’ experience is required to optimise the quality of reviews and ensure that reviewers are rewarded for their work. As increasing emphasis is placed on academic publishing it is vital that the peer review process be evaluated and strengthened.



References

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