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Q&A: Peer Review Demystified

Q: What should I know about peer review before getting involved in the process?

High-quality peer review is important to the scientific and medical literature to ensure the validity and integrity of the publication process. Research conducted and reviewed by peers or experts in the field can ensure the published work is of the highest quality. An unbiased evaluation of the scientific methods employed in turn provides assurance of the validity and integrity of the published work. This peer review process has several steps. An article submitted to a journal first undergoes an administrative overview to ensure the author instructions have been followed. Next, the editor-in-chief determines whether the article is within the scope of the journal and assesses whether any recent publication is too closely related. An associate editor (AE) with content or topic expertise evaluates the article again for suitability for review, ensuring the article meets a need for the journal readership. The AE then sends the article to an editorial board member and/or up to three reviewers. The reviewers provide a comprehensive evaluation of the methods, results, and discussion. This includes everything from the title to the figure legends. After these comprehensive reviews, recommendations are given to the AE, which can be to reject, resubmit with major revisions, or resubmit with minor revisions. On the basis of the reviewers’ recommendations, the AE sends a recommendation to the editor-in-chief, who corresponds with the authors.

Getting involved in the peer review process has several benefits to new practitioners. It allows them to see several writing examples and may improve their own scientific writing and evaluating skills. Editors find reviewers by looking for experts in the field, mainly those who have previously published in that topic area. For those without an extensive publishing history, it is suggested to ask a preceptor, a residency director, or more senior colleagues if they review for journals and can assist. Most reviewers will welcome help with this process and may send the participant’s contact information to the journal in the review process. Several publishing houses have online material outlining the review process. ACCP recently began a Peer Review Training Program. This program is unique because, in addition to online training, participants are paired with a peer review mentor. Participants are then assigned a submission to review, after which they receive feedback from the assigned mentor. For new practitioners with limited scientific writing and review, this experience provides a “real-world” review opportunity, together with feedback. Find more information about this program at


Erika J. Ernst, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCIDP
Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, Division of Health Services Research

Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The University of Iowa, College of Pharmacy

Iowa City, Iowa

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