Thank you for agreeing to conduct a peer review which will help us decide whether a manuscript is to be published in The Bulletin of Legal Medicine (BLM).
Peer-review is a critical part of the functioning of the scientific community, of quality control, and the self-corrective nature of science. Participating in peer review of scientific publications can be viewed as a responsibility, a burden, and an opportunity all at the same time. Nonetheless, peer review remains a critical component of our profession that helps to ensure the quality, originality, and reliability of scientific findings and claims. Peer review is requested of a colleague with specific interest and expertise in the topic relevant to the manuscript submitted to The Journal. Yet despite the importance of this process in upholding rigorous scientific standards and the integrity of the journal, few if any reviewers receive any formal training or instruction in how to provide a quality manuscript review. This document serves to orient and guide individuals asked to provide peer review for The Bulletin of Legal Medicine in the process and responsibilities of review and reviewer. In doing so, the hope is to increase scientific quality of the manuscripts and contribution to the forensic community.
Process of peer review in The Bulletin of Legal Medicine
The journal utilizes a standard online site (http://www.adlitipbulteni.com), supported by ATUD, for the process of both manuscript submission and manuscript peer review. Upon receiving a manuscript submitted for consideration of publication to The Journal, the Journal Manager and editorial staff review the submission to assure all required components as outlined in the Guide for Authors are included. The manuscript is then assigned to one of the Co-Editors (either the Editor in Chief or an Associate) Editor who directs and oversees the peer-review process. The Co-Editor then reviews the submission for relevance, content and quality. Those submissions deemed appropriate for consideration of publication are then assigned to at least two peer reviewers. Selection of these reviewers is a key step in the peer review process, as this represents a critical component in ensuring quality of manuscript review and in the overall quality of the Journal. Specifically, the selection of a reviewer with expertise in the topic of the manuscript to be reviewed and without any conflict of interest improves both the timeliness and quality of the review. As such, the designation of an area of interest or expertise by the reviewer (entered at the time of registration into the system (and updated in the change details section of the website, in the subsection areas of expertise) is critical for this component of the process. Reviews are choosen to a great extent from members of the advisory board.
Once the reviewers are selected by the editor, an email is sent requesting the review; 7 days is provided to choose to review (or not review) the manuscript. A lack of response to this request leads to the reviewer being uninvited. Statistics on individual reviewers are maintained and reviewed by the journal editors, including the number of reviews requested (and those accepted, uninvited, and refused). These data help in the process of evaluating the overall quality of a reviewer and are used in the selection of future editorial board members.
Please consider the following:
Does the article you are being asked to review match your expertise?
If you receive a manuscript that covers a topic that does not sufficiently match your area of expertise, please notify the editor as soon as possible. Please feel free to recommend alternate reviewer.
Do you have time to review the paper?
Finished reviews of an article should be completed within two weeks. If you do not think you can complete the review within this time frame, please let the editor know and if possible, suggest an alternate reviewer. If you have agreed to review a paper but will no longer be able to finish the work before the deadline, please contact the editor as soon as possible.
Are there any potential conflicts of interests?
While conflicts of interest will not disqualify you from reviewing the manuscript, it is important to disclose all conflicts of interest to the editors before reviewing. If you have any questions about potential conflicts of interests, please do not hesitate to contact the receiving editorial office.
Finally: Educate yourself on the peer review process through the international guides on how to conduct a good review
Respond to the invitation as soon as you can – delay in your decision slows down the review process, whether you agree to review or not.
General criteria for a peer review
There are a number of general criteria that make for a quality review of a scientific manuscript, and a number of responsibilities that come with being a peer reviewer that further enhances the review process.
The peer reviewer is responsible for critically reading and evaluating a manuscript in their specialty field, and then providing respectful, constructive, and honest feedback to authors about their submission. It is appropriate for the Peer Reviewer to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the article, ways to improve the strength and quality of the work, and evaluate the relevance and originality of the manuscript.
Timely – Given the time sensitive nature of many scientific manuscripts, the rapid return of a solicited peer review minimizes the timeline between submission and decision (which helps the authors with resubmission if the manuscript is rejected and helps the journal with a shorter time from submission to publication if accepted). Thus, the reviewer plays a very important role in ensuring expeditious dissemination of data. Peer reviews that cannot be completed on time should not be accepted by the reviewer; every effort should be made to complete those accepted within the time allotted for review.
Fair – A reviewer has a responsibility to both The Journal and the author to provide a review that is thoughtful and complete. While the immediate goal of peer review is providing a decision regarding the suitability for publication in the journal, an additional goal is to provide the author comments that will ultimately improve the science and manuscript and providing it the best chance for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. For manuscripts eventually accepted for publication, quality peer review will ensure that the highest quality science is ultimately published (and will weed out unsound papers). Peer reviews requested in areas outside of the area of expertise of a reviewer should not be accepted; in that case, the review process is facilitated by the reviewer recommending those who could provide a quality review.
Collegial – It is rare for any manuscript to be reviewed without comments or criticisms. However, the responsibility of the reviewers is to provide these critiques constructively and objectively, and in a fashion, that is collegial and respectful. Consider each manuscript as one that was written by a valued colleague when drafting a peer review. Importantly, review the manuscript as you would like your own manuscript reviewed.
Clear – The goal of peer review is to provide an advisory recommendation to the editors as to the suitability of a manuscript for publication in The Journal. As such, the responsibility of the reviewer is to provide a clear signal to the editor regarding the appropriateness and priority for publication of a manuscript. The reviewer is expected to provide comments and criticisms to the editor that clearly justifies their recommendation for disposition of the manuscript. It is also critical that the comments to the editor are consistent with those made to the author (such that the comments of the reviewer justify the recommendation regarding the disposition of the manuscript).
Comprehensive – A quality review will include a number of considerations, and may be specific to the manuscript being reviewed. In order for a manuscript to be considered for publication, it must be original and significant, providing a contribution to research and importance to field. In general, there should be no flaws in the specific procedures used in performance of the study, or in the logic used for the interpretation of the data. It is important that the results of the study support its conclusions, and that there are no errors in reference to prior work (or no exclusions of pertinent references). Where appropriate, confirmation of regulatory review (such as institutional review board approval) must be present. A reviewer is expected to comment on the strengths and weaknesses or limitations of the study. The validity of the statistics used (often including a justification of a sample size) to analyze data is necessary, and the data presented in the figures and tables should be reflective of the results presented and adequate to justify the study conclusions. In general, the manuscript length and quality of the writing are important to ensure its quality.
Considerations for a quality peer review of a manuscript
Is the article clearly laid out? Are all the key elements present: abstract, introduction, methodology, results, conclusions?
Consider each element in turn:
Title: Does it clearly describe the article? This will be used for medical database searches, so it shouldn't try to be "cute".
Abstract: Does it reflect the content of the article? Are the data consistent with the results reported in the manuscript?
Introduction: Does it describe what the author hoped to achieve accurately, and clearly state the problem being investigated? Normally, the introduction is two or three paragraphs long. It should summarize relevant research to provide context, and explain what findings of others, if any, are being challenged or extended. It should describe the experiment, hypothesis; general experimental design or method.
Methodology: Does the author accurately explain how the data were collected? Is the design suitable for answering the question posed? Is there sufficient information present for you to replicate the research? Does the article identify the procedures followed? Are these ordered in a meaningful way? If the methods are new, are they explained in detail? Was the sampling appropriate? Have the equipment and materials been adequately described? Does the article make it clear what type of data was recorded; has the author been precise in describing measurements?
Results: This is where the author should explain in words, tables and figures what was discovered in the research. It should be clearly laid out and in a logical sequence. You will need to consider if the appropriate analysis been conducted. Are the statistics correct? If you are not comfortable with statistics, advise the editor when you submit your report and recommend review by a statistical editor. Any interpretation should not be included in this section.
Conclusion/Discussion: Are the claims in this section supported by the results, do they seem reasonable? Have the authors indicated how the results relate to expectations and to earlier research? Does the article support or contradict previous theories? Does the conclusion explain how the research has moved the body of scientific knowledge forward?
Language: If an article is poorly written due to grammatical errors, while it may make it more difficult to understand the science, you do not need to correct the language. You may wish to bring it to the attention of the editor, however, and we can refer the authors to an language editing service if you feel the paper may be worth publishing.
Finally, on balance, when considering the whole article, do the figures and tables inform the reader, are they an important part of the story? Do the figures describe the data accurately? Are they consistent (are the bars in the charts the same width, are the scales on the axis logical)? Are the legends appropriate?
If the article builds upon previous research, does it reference that work appropriately? Are there any important works that have been omitted? Are the references accurate?
Once accepted, the reviewer has 4 weeks to complete the review (details of the components of a review are described in more detail below), which is submitted through The Journal site. Failure to complete the review during this time period leads to a reminder email.
It is the responsibility of the reviewer to provide a recommendation to the editor for the disposition of the manuscript. Importantly, the recommendation of the reviewer is advisory to the editor, as it is ultimately the decision of the editor as to the final disposition of the manuscript.
When the editor has a full complement of reviews completed, the editor reviews the comments and recommendations, and a decision regarding the suitability for publication of the manuscript is made.
The recommendations can be categorized into 6 groups.
Accept Submission (without modification)
Revisions Required: Accept with minor modification (but manuscript requires modifications to improve its quality)
Resubmit for Review: Major modifications required, manuscript is unique, but requires extensive revision and reevaluation prior to potential acceptance
Resubmit Elsewhere: manuscript is unique, but out of the journal scope.
Decline Submission: manuscript is of low quality or low interest to the readership)
The reviewer has two types of comments that can be provided – one to the authors, and one to the editors. It is strongly encouraged that the reviewer utilizes the comments to the editor to provide confidential comments regarding the manuscript under consideration. These comments help assure that the editor understands the true recommendation of the reviewer and provides key assistance to the Editor in determining a manuscript's ultimate disposition. In addition, completing the manuscript rating form is helpful in supporting a reviewer's recommendation for the disposition of a manuscript, and assists the Editor in justifying the final decision.
Ethical responsibilities of the reviewer
Given the sensitive nature of peer review, there are ethical responsibilities of the review and review process that are critical to ensure their validity. It is important for reviewers to identify potential conflicts of interest with the authors and the topic of the manuscript. The Bulletin of Legal Medicine requires that reviewers disclose potential and relevant conflicts of interest related to employment, consultancies, stock ownership, receipt of honoraria, patents, a professional relationship with, or direct competition in the field of the authors. The reviewer has a responsibility to review the conflict of interest forms submitted by the authors, which specifically document any relevant financial relationships.
Given the role of reviewer as an expert in the topic area of the manuscript, a reviewer is requested to report any known situations of duplicate submissions (a manuscript that may be under concurrent review at another journal), fraudulent data, or plagiarism in a manuscript. If identified, these comments should be conveyed to the editor (in the confidential comments to the editor section) so they can be addressed as appropriate. Since peer review of a manuscript allows a reviewer to view data that is not yet in the public domain, strict confidentiality is critical to ensure scientific integrity; destruction of documents and files related to peer review is also mandatory once the review is complete.
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is a group comprised of editors of academic journals and others interested in publication ethics. Members of COPE were provided with the Ethical Guidelines for Peer Review, describing the basic principles to which reviewers should adhere. These guidelines provide a broad ethical context in which the peer review process should be performed.
COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers
Peer review in all its form plays an important role in ensuring the integrity of the scholarly record. The process depends to a large extent on trust, and requires that everyone involved behaves responsibly and ethically. Peer reviewers play a central and critical part in the peer-review process, but too often come to the role without any guidance and may be unaware of their ethical obligations. The COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers set out the basic principles and standards to which all peer reviewers should adhere during the peer-review process. It is hoped they will provide helpful guidance to researchers, be a reference for journals and editors in guiding their reviewers, and act as an educational resource for institutions in training their students and researchers.
Basic principles to which peer reviewers should adhere
Peer reviewers should:
• only agree to review manuscripts for which they have the subject expertise required to carry out a proper assessment and which they can assess in a timely manner
• respect the confidentiality of peer review and not reveal any details of a manuscript or its review, during or after the peer-review process, beyond those that are released by the journal
• not use information obtained during the peer-review process for their own or any other person's or organization's advantage, or to disadvantage or discredit others
• declare all potential conflicting interests, seeking advice from the journal if they are unsure whether something constitutes a relevant interest
• not allow their reviews to be influenced by the origins of a manuscript, by the nationality, religious or political beliefs, gender or other characteristics of the authors, or by commercial considerations
• be objective and constructive in their reviews, refraining from being hostile or inflammatory and from making libelous or derogatory personal comments
• acknowledge that peer review is largely a reciprocal endeavor and undertake to carry out their fair share of reviewing and in a timely manner
• provide journals with personal and professional information that is accurate and a true representation of their expertise
• recognize that impersonation of another individual during the review process is considered serious misconduct
Review of the reviewer
The editor evaluates the quality of a review upon its receipt. Utilizing the criteria defining a quality review (timely, fair, collegial, clear, and comprehensive), a reviewer is evaluated and scored (from 0-5) on their review. This statistic, in combination with a separate statistic regarding the timeliness of the review, is helpful in assigning subsequent reviews to a reviewer. Reviewers with low scoring or late reviews are not considered highly for subsequent reviews.
Why be a reviewer?
Reviewing requires the investment of time and a certain skillset. Before you decide if you want to become a reviewer, we recommend that you read more about the peer review process and conducting a review.
A reviewer may directly benefit from the peer review process by learning from the work of others prior to publication. Reviewer's insights may also lead to future research ideas, improvements in their own study design and manuscript preparation. In addition, The Council of Higher education supports peer reviewing financially within the context of academic refunds.
As a reviewer, you can;
Establish your expertise in the field and expand your knowledge.
Improve your reputation and increase your exposure to key figures in the field.
Stay up to date with the latest literature, and have advanced access to research results.
Develop critical thinking skills essential to research.
Advance in your career – peer review is an essential role for researchers.