Three Wishes for Manuscript Peer Review

By Kristin Janke, PhD

This post is provided in conjunction with Peer Review Week 2018, an international event celebrating the importance of peer review in the scholarly process. Dialogue and discussion will be occurring on Twitter at: @PeerRevWeek and #PeerReviewWeek18.

The new academic year is always a time to reflect. Recently, I realized I’ve been working as an author and reviewer for 27 years and as an editor for 10. Despite the late night/early morning hours, scrutiny and lessons hard learned, I still get up each day excited to write and review again. Knowing that we’re headed into Peer Review Week (PRW), I asked myself, “Why am I participating in PRW again?” It’s not like I don’t have other things to do. After turning this around in my head, I’ve decided it’s because I have three wishes related to peer review of manuscripts.

1. I wish that we embraced peer review as a skill set that needs focused attention and explicit development.

Peer reviewers require a whole host of abilities, in order to enhance manuscript quality and assist editorial decision making.1 For example, they must:

  • understand the landscape of the area where they are reviewing (e.g. general scope, active borders, areas ripe for inquiry)
  • have a working knowledge of scholarly standards of the field, particularly its demands related to theory, exploratory, investigative or evaluative methods, and analytical approaches
  • be familiar with the journal requirements and specific article type
  • differentiate between writing problems and project execution or design problems
  • weigh multiple factors in making a publication recommendation
  • deliver comments that are direct and clear, conveying them in a respectful tone, and in a spirit of collegial coaching.

Despite reviewer efforts, the editor may ultimately disagree and choose to go in another direction. In short, this is hard work requiring skill and commitment. And, these abilities are certainly not developed overnight.

While we are quick to recognize the need to develop our skills as instructors or researchers, skills in peer review are often not held in such high esteem. Most faculty are more likely to attend a teaching workshop or grant writing seminar than peer review-related programming. Peer review skills may not even make their way onto our annual professional development goals. In my ideal world, they would.

2. I wish that our organizations and systems were better at nurturing peer reviewer development and reflective practice.

Like learning any skill, peer reviewer skill development requires the appropriate challenge and deliberate (goal-directed) practice that includes targeted feedback.2 The new reviewer (like the new student) needs to know the expectations and the structural elements of the review report. To this end, a checklist may be helpful in guiding their work. They also need to exercise their skill. A more straightforward review may be helpful in the beginning, and once they’ve learned to identify nuances and gained experience with providing guidance, they can advance to more complex reviews. But how is this all done in a coordinated, effective fashion?

Scaffolding reviews may be difficult in a voluntary system involving many journals. Mentorship and feedback are great in theory, but require resources. Institutions could:

  • encourage participation in peer reviewer training programs
  • coordinate supervised or group reviews3
  • encourage new reviewers to review others’ reviews during the revision process
  • suggest reviewers ask editors for feedback on their reviews.

But, we need to prepare individuals and systems to have these conversations and make these recommendations. In my ideal world, peer review is nurtured as one of the important skills of pharmacy educators. Imagine the power that a few questions from a supervisor might have. What peer review related skills are you seeking to develop? How has your review work this year aided in the advancement of your skills?

3. I wish that we could find a feasible, meaningful means to recognize peer review to the satisfaction of all parties.

Certainly, our processes for workload documentation can collect information on the types of review activities and their frequency. This information could then be considered as part of annual review, merit and promotion. But, fundamentally, I think we’re seeking more than counting the amount of review activity. Anyone can accumulate masses of reviews. And, we likely need more than complex formulae to accurately factor review work into some valuation of a faculty member’s contributions. There are strategies that help to recognize good peer review work (e.g. awards) that likely need to be incorporated more fully. In my ideal world, we continue to convene together on this issue and experiment with new methods.

So, these are the reasons that I participate in PRW. I’m looking for answers. How do we help reviewers embrace peer review as an important skill set? How do we help our organizations and systems better nurture peer reviewer skill development? What are feasible, meaningful ways to recognize peer review? I’m reading the reports, attending the webinars and watching the social media conversations, looking for solutions to these challenges… for novel, creative strategies to help these wishes come true! Join me!


1. Janke KK, Bzowyckyj AS, Traynor AP. Editors’ perspectives on enhancing manuscript quality and editorial decisions through peer review and reviewer development. Am J Pharm Educ. 2017;81(4). doi:10.5688/ajpe81473.

2. Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK. What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning? In: Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2010.

3. Illgen JS, Artino AR, Simpson D, Yarris LM, Chretien KC, Sullivan GM. Group peer review: The breakfast of champions. J Grad Med Educ. 2016; 8(5): 646-649.

Kristin Janke

Kristin Janke is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems and Director of the Wulling Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Pharmacy Education at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. She is Executive Associate Editor for Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning and Editor for Innovations in Pharmacy where she is responsible for the education section. She is also the coordinator for the #RxWritingChallenge. Her scholarly interests include: unique methods for student leadership development, enhancing assessment practices in colleges/schools of pharmacy and broadening publication options for the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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