How does a review process work?

Gepubliceerd op 19 mei 2023 om 12:00

Reviewers, you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. Peer-review is an essential part of the scientific process. It means that independent experts in your field, who were not involved in your research, critically examine the paper you have submitted for publication to a scientific journal. They check whether this is a meaningful and well-executed research study. Reviewers ensure the quality and integrity of scientific studies. But this does not mean that there are no times they drive you completely insane. Especially in the beginning, it takes some time getting used to feedback from reviewers after you have worked so hard on your paper. Remember: it is never personal feedback! Take advantage of their suggestions to improve your paper even further. When things go right, you will be grateful to the reviewers afterwards for their relevant suggestions, which have made your paper even better. (That is, if it is indeed accepted for publication afterwards!)


A good review process

When things go right, you will receive a careful and well thought list of feedback points from your reviewers. These may be things you have simply overlooked, that are so common sense that you have not spent enough words on them, suggestions that help you make your paper even more clear for a broader audience and points that help you take your research to the next level. When the feedback regards such relatively trivial points and no essential adaptations have to be made, reviewers often indicate these as ‘minor revisions’. If you are lucky, you can easily incorporate this feedback, which improves your paper, the reviewers are satisfied with the changes you have made after just one round (yep, two or even more review-rounds can certainly occur, the whole process can easily take a few months) and you have your publication. This only goes when you have submitted a high-quality paper, but you would NEVER submit a bad paper of course!



Disappointing feedback

Unfortunately, you do not always get pleasant feedback from reviewers. Sometimes they can be very critical and raise questions regarding the quality and relevance of your research. Of course, you hope that this is undeserved. In that case you can refute the content of their critical notes in your rebuttal. It is also possible they want you to perform some additional analyses. This often referred to as a ‘major revision’, because your paper still needs considerable work. In rare occasions you would have to completely go back to the drawing board to see if there is anything salvageable. However, in such cases your paper is often rejected by the journal. If it goes either of these ways, the review process has served its purpose.


Major versus minor revision

The idea is that a ‘major revision’ requires crucial adaptations in your paper, whereas a ‘minor revision’ only addresses relatively trivial issues. However, the difference between these two can be rather arbitrary, and greatly depend on the reviewer. So do not be alarmed when you get your paper back from the journal with a ‘major revision’. Most times you do not actually need to go back to the drawing board and sometimes the amount of work is not as much as you expected. On the other hand, a ‘minor revision’ can still take quite a lot of work, so do not attach too much importance to the classification ‘minor’ or ‘major revision’. The most important thing is that your paper was not rejected and that you were given an opportunity to improve it!


Do you want to read more about the review process or tips on how to write a good rebuttal, keep an eye out for our future blogs!

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