Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pre-submission peer-review (transitioning to open access)

Transitioning to open access can be facilitated for everyone involved by looking for efficiencies in the production of scholarly communications. This post looks at the hypothesis that pre-submission peer review results in higher quality submissions, reducing the workload for editors and peer-reviewers. If correct, this has interesting implications: enhanced viability for some types of open access journals, such as the strictly volunteer / in-kind or membership fee subsidized models, or potentially reduced processing fees for open access journals that rely on the latter.
To me, this is such a no-brainer that I'm not waiting for the results of the suggested research! In my view, open access publishers are well advised to include suggestions for pre-submission peer-review in their author guidelines, right now!

Pre-submission peer-review

Hypothesis: when an article has been reviewed before submission for publication, the workload for editors and peer-reviewers is less. This efficiency has the potential to enhance the viability of open access journals relying primarily or exclusively on volunteer labor and in-kind support, as well as to decrease revenue expenditures, and therefore potentially process fees, for process-fee based open access publishing. For many authors, there are side-benefits: this will also increase the chances of an article being accepted for publication, and result in a more congenial review process.

Background: in my experience as an author, editor, and peer-reviewer, the range of quality of articles submitted for publication, even those eventually published, is from articles that require absolutely no revision whatsoever to articles that are completely rewritten by the editor. There is a lot of middle ground - articles that need quite a bit of work. Reviewing a well-written article is a lot less work than reviewing an article that needs a lot of work; it's also much more pleasant, an important factor when coordinating volunteer labor. In my experience, the articles that need little work are those that have been carefully checked by the author, who has asked colleagues and/or experts to review the work before submission. (Note: there are two concepts here - self-review and peer-review, which are mixed up together here, as they are interrelated. It is important to consider them together, as either would improve the quality of an article submitting for publication).

As an author who has followed this process, my impression is that this is a more congenial experience for the author as well. If your article needs revision, it's much nicer to hear this from a friend, someone who might be able to sit down with you and help you understand how someone else might see your article, rather than an unknown stranger in a situation where asking the reviewer to clarify a comment may seem too much work to pursue, or at best is likely to leave you waiting some time for an answer.

Research: survey authors on submission to find out whether an article has gone through a pre-submission review, and to what level. For example, did a colleague provide a thorough critique, and did the author do substantial revisions based on this critique? Conduct a separate survey of editors and peer-reviewers to find out how much time was spent on reviewing and editing. If the hypothesis is correct, then there will be an inverse correlation between pre-submission peer-review and time spent on editing and review (the more peer-review, the less editing and post-submission peer review). It would be important to address potential confounding factors, such as discipline, topic, author's experience, linguistic or geographic origin, etc. It might be useful to survey editors and reviewers about their perceived quality of the experience (pleasant / unpleasant, etc.).

Implications:If this hypothesis is correct, there are some interesting implications. If a journal is using a processing fee approach, why should an author who submits an article close to perfection pay exactly the same rate as an author whose article needs substantial revision? Does it make sense for a volunteer / in-kind or membership fee subsidy based journal to actively encourage authors to seek pre-submission peer review? To me, this is such a no-brainer that I'm not waiting for someone to have time for this research!

This post is the third in the Transition ing to Open Access series.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.


  1. I'd like to see the research, too. There's a limit to who you can ask to read your new paper, and if you go much beyond your immediate circle of colleagues and friends, you're sorta doing the journal's job for them. I don't mean that's a bad thing, but I'm pretty sure it's more than most authors do. I always get everyone I work with to read it, and any scientist friend who has the time, and any colleague who might concievably be interested by way of their own work/expertise. I think I pester a lot more people for feedback than most.

    Related ideas:

    1. "open review" -- like the recent trial at Nature

    2. Biology Direct's system, where the author solicits the reviews, which are published with the paper

    3. science blogs, where one could post anything from a hypothesis to a dataset to a fully assembled manuscript, and ask for feedback.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bill. It would be good to have this research, to know how much review is necessary or desirable - maybe you don't have to
    pester all of your friends, perhaps just one or two.

    Another related idea: open, signed peer reviews. If someone is good at peer review, why shouldn't they get credit for their work?


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