Getting Published: The Peer Review Process

Congratulations, you’ve submitted your paper for publication! Now the waiting game begins. We can thank (or blame) the peer review process for that. Peer review is certainly the crossroads on your path to Getting Published.  Each month in our series we’ve been tackling an aspect of the publication process, including choosing the right journal, figuring out a journal’s scope, and deciphering author guidelines. Today we will attempt to demystify the peer review process.

“Peer review is the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are usually not part of the editorial staff.”1 According to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), this unbiased and independent assessment of scholarly work is an important part of the scientific process.

Peer reviewed journals are still considered the gold standard for publications, especially in the medical field. Further, the peer review process helps journal editors determine which submitted manuscripts actually fit the scope of their journal. Authors benefit from the peer review process because reviewers’ comments help improve authors’ reporting of their research.1

The peer review process differs from journal to journal. Remember that a journal is “under no obligation to send submitted manuscripts for review, and under no obligation to follow reviewer recommendations, favorable or negative.”1 Journals also vary in the number of reviewers looking at each manuscript, whether the review is open or blinded (i.e., reviewers either know the authors’ identities, or they don’t), and turn-around time. Legitimate journals should have an explanation of their peer review process on their website.

Here is what you can expect from the peer review process:

  • If your paper is rejected, you will find out relatively quickly (sometimes within 24-48 hours!)
  • Journals will often tell you why your paper was rejected
  • Common reasons for rejection:
    • insufficient originality
    • does not fit within scope of journal / not relevant to journal’s audience
    • manuscript is not topical
    • study did not ask a good research question
    • research has serious flaws
    • review of literature was inadequate
    • problems with statistical analysis
  • Most journals will have a decision within 2-3 weeks of your submission
  • You may receive a full acceptance, or an acceptance “with revisions” (either major or minor revisions). This is your opportunity to thoroughly read the reviewers’ comments, make the appropriate suggested changes, and resubmit your paper in a timely manner.

Keep in mind that many reviewers will skim your abstract to make a quick initial determination of whether your paper fits within the scope of the journal and is worthy of peer review, so make sure your abstract: (1) is within the word limit set by the journal; (2) is in the correct format (e.g., structured or unstructured); and (3) summarizes why your work is important enough to be published.

For more tips on how to succeed at peer review, check out the Checklist of Review Criteria from the Task Force of Academic Medicine and the GEA-RIME Committee, published in the journal Academic Medicine.

Be patient when waiting to hear back from your journal. Remember—peer review could take as long as 3 weeks or more depending on the volume of submissions the journal receives. We wish you good luck! Stay tuned for the next “Getting Published” installment where we will discuss dealing with rejection.


  1. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, 2016. Responsibilities in the Submission and Peer-Review Process. Accessed April 15, 2016.




One thought on “Getting Published: The Peer Review Process

  1. Pingback: Getting Published: You’re Published…What Next? | Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library

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