I have been peer-reviewing academic papers for journals for more than a decade. I pride myself on being a reliable and supportive reviewer: I take time to read and make notes on any paper I am reviewing and then write a review which will, I hope, be comprehensive enough to offer the author requisite advice. I am part of an editorial board and a member of a College of Reviewers, and have reviewed numerous individual papers as well as papers for special editions. I am asked to review at least a couple of papers a month and I rarely turn down a request since it is, after all, a process that we all rely on as academics. I imagine I have now reviewed well over a hundred papers and because of this I have played a role in shaping what journals publish and, by default, what gets read, and so what gets known.
It is, therefore, perhaps astonishing (to those outside of the system), but unsurprising (to those inside it), that until a few months ago I had never received any training on how to perform this highly regarded but (mostly) wholly unpaid role. I have, of course, sought advice from colleagues over the years and shared my experiences with them, but most of my reviewing has been done intuitively. In reviewing papers I have tried hard to be helpful to authors and to not give the sort of snide or unhelpful reviews which I have, on occasion, received - although I accept that the recipients of my reviews may on occasion feel differently.
In my current role as Head of Research in the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, I have been involved in a range of writer development initiatives. Those who have attended these sessions have also commented on the difficulties of giving and receiving peer-reviewer feedback, with some colleagues indicating that they have found the whole process stressful, troublesome, or problematic. Therefore the offer by Taylor & Francis to deliver a peer-review session as part of our writer development activities was warmly welcomed: newer reviewers wanted to find out more about the whole process whilst more experienced researchers (including myself) wanted to get a sense of whether we had actually been getting it right.
The comprehensive session with Taylor & Francis covered both sides of the peer-review process (both giving and receiving) and included the publishing cycle, decoding peer-review language, standards of etiquette, reasons for rejection/acceptance, models of reviewing, and help for prospective authors. It was an extremely illuminating session and the attendees found it remarkably useful – either because it enabled academics to understand the whole review process, or because it helped us to recognize where we were getting it right (or not).
If we are to act as the sort of gatekeepers to knowledge that I have described above we should do so with integrity. A comprehensive understanding of the peer-review process can only help to maintain and sustain this level of integrity.