Research essentials

Responding to, and learning from, peer review feedback

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence, or who have expertise in the same area of practice.

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence, or who have expertise in the same area of practice

Peer_Review
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What is peer review in research?

Peer review is the process of assessing the scientific quality of a research proposal, research report and/or paper by an independent expert, usually an academic or clinical expert.

Why is peer review important?

Peer review is a central component of health care and professional practice, and can include:

  • Self-regulation, for example as part of the revalidation process.
  • Evaluation of the standards of patient care by a group of professionals, such as the Care Quality Commission.
  • Scholarly activities that can include critical appraisal of textbooks and journal articles.
  • Research reviews, including proposals and grant application, ethics committee reviews, and research findings. 

Peer review aims to maintain professional standards and improve the quality of care. In research, it ensures that only robust and viable proposals are accepted for publication, and adds to their credibility when they are published.

What influences reviewers’ judgements of research?

Funding bodies and journals have criteria for reviewers to judge the importance and relevance of studies to patient care, and the appropriateness of the research design and methods (National Institute of Health Research 2016).

Areas of research peer reviewers evaluate

Research proposal
  • How important is the project, can the team deliver it and can the organisation support it?
  • Is this research timely?
  • Is justification for the research clear and does it identify a gap in the evidence?
  • Is there coherence between the design and methods, and are the methods appropriate and adequate to enable the research question to be answered?
  • Is the plain English summary written at the appropriate level for a lay person to understand?
  • Are the recruitment strategies appropriate and will they minimise bias?
  • What are the ethical implications of the project and how will they be addressed?
  • Has there been meaningful public patient engagement?
  • How will the project benefit patient care?
  • Is the project value for money?
  • Are the findings likely to be relevant to clinical practice?
  • Is a feasible dissemination plan included?
Journal articles
  • Is the article well written, in the journal style and will it engage the reader?
  • Are there any significant flaws in the research design and application of the methods? How does the study add to or advance knowledge?
  • Is the title representative of the study presented?
  • Is the abstract structured appropriately for the journal?
  • Is the study rationale clearly presented and the background literature summarised adequately?
  • Is the study design appropriate and methods outlined clearly?
  • Has the sample been explained adequately?
  • Have the findings been stated clearly?
  • Does the discussion place the findings in the context of other related research and /or current policy directives?
  • Have the strengths and limitations of the research been outlined?
  • Are the implications for practice clearly presented?

 

Responding to review comments

Peer review should not be punitive. Critical feedback that praises while suggesting improvements or highlighting concerns provides an important learning opportunity, and can lead to a more robust research proposal or better quality article. 

Geek speak

Peer review

In simple terms, peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence, or who have expertise in the same area of practice.

When responding to feedback always:

  • Thank the reviewer. Something can always be gained from reviewer comments even if you are disappointed and do not think their comments are justified.
  • Highlight any good and useful points made by the reviewer.
  • Summarise key points in a way that is meaningful to you.
  • Use any resources suggested, a broader perspective can enhance a study.

Do not be worried about disagreeing with the reviewer as long as the reason is justified – use moderated language and avoid using an aggressive tone when responding to reviewers’ comments.  

Key messages

  • Peer reviewing is essential in research to ensure patient and public safety.
  • Peer reviews provide a benchmark for a consistency in the quality of research undertaken.
  • Peer review is usually a confidential process.
  • Responding to peer review can enhance the quality of a research proposal or paper.

Reference

 


Joanna Smith is a lecturer children’s nursing at the University of Leeds

Linda Milnes is associate professor children and young people’s nursing in the school of healthcare, University of Leeds

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