One my central activities as a Raelyn Cole Editorial Fellow (more information on the fellowship can be found here) is to learn more about the editorial process. An obvious step towards this is to be involved as a peer reviewer. While I had reviewed for a range of journals in different sub-fields of biology and ecology before the fellowship (> 15 different titles), I hadn’t reviewed for Limnology & Oceanography: Letters. One of the key features of the review process at this journal is cross peer review, an initiative I hadn’t come across before but think will be particularly useful for early career researchers.
For those who haven’t reviewed for a journal with cross peer review, in this version of the process once all peer reviews have been returned they are distributed to the other reviewers, giving an opportunity for examination prior to a decision being made on the manuscript. During the process all reviews remain anonymous. While extending the time taken for peer review (following distribution the reviewers at L&O Letters are given 48 hours to provide feedback via e-mail), this increase is slight given that reviewers are only asked to comment on comments and suggestions that could affect the editor’s decision. From an editorial point of view this extra step is designed to help identify unnecessary or unreasonable suggestions made by a particular reviewer, or highlight valid concerns raised by one reviewer that were initially overlooked by others. Editors are consequently better able to identify, and convey to authors, the key aspects of reviews which contribute to decisions and requests for changes.
Cross peer review can also benefit reviewers. As an early career researcher, I find one of the key strategies for improving my reviews is to assess my comments against those of the other reviewer(s). In cross peer review, very soon after submitting my own report I receive the others, enabling comparisons to be made while the manuscript and my review are still fresh in my mind. Although many other journals do provide the opportunity to see the other reviews, this typically occurs once the final editorial decision has been made – which can be months after a review was initially submitted. Moreover, where additional comments are made during the cross peer review process, this can further benefit early career researchers. If a particular comment I made was questioned by another reviewer, this could highlight that the language used to try and make the point was unclear, or that my thinking behind the comment was misguided and needs to be adjusted. Becoming aware of these issues can highlight areas researchers need to develop; for example, by developing a clearer writing style, or becoming more aware of the academic context in which a comment is made.
My take-home message from all of this? If given the opportunity to review for a journal that has cross peer review, I encourage you to take it – particularly if you are an early career researcher! This model of peer review has features that can allow you to improve both as a reviewer, and also as an author.