Peer review training
Training programs are essential for reviewers regardless of the review methodology they are involved in for several reasons. Which are the current training possibilities?
Training programs are essential for reviewers regardless of the review methodology they are involved in (traditional or open peer review) for several reasons: (1) training should define core competencies for reviewers, and (2) training should be tailored to ensure reviewers and editors to meet some basic discipline-specific standards.
Courses on peer review should provide basic training, certification and continuing education in order to have a long-lasting impact in improving review practices. Trainings can contribute to employing good principles (e.g. COPE) as standards for all academic review processes. Publishers can enable the developments of review standards and display major results at their journals website in order to ensure their wide uptake among researchers.
Current training possibilities
Training reviewers has become a critical issue in scholarly publishing. As a response to this increasing demand, information on the peer review processes for reviewers has been disseminated in various forms. We looked at some of the tools publishers offer to train reviewers with no claim of being exhaustive.
Publons offers a full service for reviewers. Within the framework of the Publons Academy, free, on-demand courses are offered, which not only teach researchers the core competencies of peer reviewing, but also connect them with journal editors to practice their newly acquired skills. Benefits of enrolling in this peer review training also include practicing writing real post-publication reviews, creating a reviewer profile on Publons, improving writing and publishing skills in general.
Based on the advice of an expert panel of researchers, who not only have a wide experience of reviewing for numerous journals, but also sat on editorial boards, Publons put together an easy to follow 12 steps to take to ensure a thorough and robust review. The list includes recommendations on how to prepare for the review, tips on how to read the manuscript critically, advice on common research flaws to watch out for and on how to compile reviewer’s response for revisions (Wilkinson, 2017).
Wiley created a toolbox for reviewers. They provide access to a series of short videos, which either offer basic information and some guidelines on the review process in an animated fashion, or share experiences of reviewers and editors in short question and answer format.
Wolters Kluwer Author Services employs Editage (a service of a global medical communication agency) to provide authors with a range of editorial and educational services with the aim of helping authors with manuscript preparation for publication in professional medical, nursing, and allied health journals. They also offer a course for reviewers including valuable advice from learned academics who have decades of experience as peer reviewers. Apart from the basics of peer reviewing, perspectives are shared with reviewers on how expert research methodologists and statisticians approach peer reviews.
Elsevier offers a series of modules on its website which, besides the know-how tips, deal with the motivations behind peer reviewing. The videos explain why it is so important to get involved in peer review and the many benefits it can bring including how carrying out peer review can sharpen writing skills and getting involved in the review process can also mean an introduction to experts in the field. The course also explains why there is a move towards making peer review more transparent.
ACS Reviewer Lab™ also provides free peer-review training course providing guidance on how to deal with ethical situations, identifying core criteria for evaluating manuscripts, and offering tips how to write a first-rate review.
The Genetics Society has developed a pilot program for GSA member graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty to serve as peer-reviewers for the journal. The purpose of the program, besides providing training on the principles, purposes, and best practices of peer-review, as well as guidelines and models for fair reviews that are helpful to both the authors and the editors, is to incentivize young researchers to participate in the review process. According to the program description, peer reviewers gain skills to communicate specialist information in an accessible way, to give feedback that is constructive and fair, and besides how they can contribute to the discipline, they also learn hard-to-show “soft” skills like workplace etiquette, knowing when to seek advice, time management, and reliably meeting deadlines.
Copernicus Publications contribute to face-to-face trainings on peer review in the format of workshops. At the annual General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union the editors of the publishing house are asked to participate in and provide input to workshops which aim to offer the research community (in particular early career scientists) with a better understanding of open access and open review processes. At these events peer-review experts share their experiences with open science methods and tools and provide examples that the audience can give feedback on and discuss.
All these program and courses describe peer reviewing as a complex set of skills which require not only scientific knowledge of a field, but also skills and experience with managing ethical issues, managing workflows and communicating with peers in a research community. Considering the overload reviewers experience within the current publishing system and the difficulty publishers face to find competent reviewers, these courses also function as motivational tools to highlight the benefits of being a reviewer.
The OpenUP project tasks also include training activities both in the form of organizing training workshops and preparing and dissemination training materials through the OpenUPhub. A joined training event of OpenUP and FOSTER was organized on June 20, 2018 in Göttingen. The outcomes of discussion provided rich information on how transparency and openness in the review process can be increased from different disciplinary perspectives. The results basically reflect on what issues trainings on open peer review should focus on to ensure wider uptake of transparent review practices and increased willingness to participate in the process among younger researchers
To enhance openness in the peer review process attention should be focused on the following issues:
- increasing awareness of credits for review, education opportunities at graduate level, standards of reuse, tools to enhance visibility and citability, building communities,
- change of mindset on having willingness to share comments, advancing helpful attitude toward openness in general and on becoming more proactive.
- training on peer review should focus on skills highlighting the three ‘C’s: be constructive, critical and civil, policies, and on the scientific context of review (expertise in the field).
- teaching skills to communicate with fellow researchers and to navigate and use new platforms and tools,
- advancing user friendly resources, such as one platform instead of fragmented publishing and dissemination system, code of conduct accepted by communities and moderation to help communication and commenting process.
Workshop participants also collected ideas on what reviewer training should focus on. Good examples of training opportunities included journal clubs as forums where review comments are posted and openly available to learn from them, or the evaluation process of evaluators where authors indicate the helpfulness of the reviews provided, or templates and structured scoring help beginner reviewers focus their attention on specific aspects of evaluation. Workshops and courses offered at major scientific conferences were also brought up as good opportunities for reviewer trainings.
FOSTER also offers a free course on open peer review. Please find more information here: https://www.fosteropenscience.eu/node/2333
Wilkinson, J. (2017). Writing a peer review is a structured process that can be learned and improved – 12 steps to follow. LSE Impact Blog. Retrieved 7 June 2018 from: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/05/17/writing-a-peer-review-is-a-structured-process-that-can-be-learned-and-improved-12-steps-to-follow/