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A publisher’s view

What are the benefits of having more identities in the peer review process, and how can we encourage more identities to be represented in the peer review process?

17th September 2021

Laura Wilson

When writing this blogpost, the answer to the first part of the question was easy; the benefits of having more identities in the peer review process are obvious. When we consider government representation, or the makeup of corporate (or editorial boards), we want the makeup of those to both represent us as individuals, but also to be as diverse as possible to reflect everyone else that they represent.

The reviewer and editorial community of a journal should be much the same; journals should aim to create a community that can respectfully debate a wide range of theories, concepts and perspectives within the scope of that journal. There is no longer a place for journals with the perception of being an “old boy’s club” or a closed room, only accessible if you know the right person. Diversity has significant benefits for the content and direction of a journal; research has proven that journals with more diverse editorial boards publish more geographically-diverse research.

This diversity only be achieved by having a diverse editorial team, diverse authors and diverse pool of reviewers. When talking about diversity, we may think about ability, backgrounds or beliefs; it’s important for journals and publishers to consider how stakeholders who are neurodiverse are also supported. What can publishers and journals do to ensure there is a level playing field and that all valuable research is published?

We recognise that there are many barriers to authors in even submitting their article to a journal, let alone surviving peer review. For reviewers, it can be equally challenging in knowing how to navigate the various systems and to submit a review.

This question of how to knock down these barriers and to encourage diversity is much harder to answer.  The rest of this blog post will attempt to detail some ideas on how this could be achieved, some of which Emerald are either doing now, or hope to in the future.

Removing barriers in the publishing process

Experimenting with different methods of peer review: the vast majority of Emerald journal titles operate on a double anonymous basis, where the author and reviewer identities remain anonymous to each other. However, we know that there is potential even then for unconscious bias to sneak in if the Editor knows their identities when they select reviewers for that paper.

On Emerald Open Research gateways, open peer review is used to offer transparency in the hope of breaking down barriers. There are also opportunities Emerald is exploring around the removal of authors’ first names in the peer review process, or even a triple anonymous peer review process where the Editor doesn’t even know the names of authors or reviewers.

Format-free submissions: Journal instructions can be astoundingly unclear, and many journals require different formatting before you can even consider submitting. We’re not there yet, but in the future we do hope we’ll be able to consider any submission in any format to remove a barrier for anyone who is struggling.

Clear instructions, that are designed for those who don’t have English as a first language: This does what it says on the tin; we will conduct a review of our guidelines to make sure that they are accessible and clear to anyone.

Encouraging Editors to look beyond language issues, to focus on the research itself: As part of Emerald’s overall drive to be inclusive of everyone, we will work closely with our Editors to look beyond language issues on a paper if the research is novel. We will continue to offer our advanced subediting services for certain titles and our partnership with Editage.

Accessibility: Emerald is proud of our commitment to accessibility; we recently received an ASPIRE Gold standard for our platform. We’d now like to ensure that this standard of accessibility is maintained throughout our publication process for any stakeholder.

Make it clear what is expected from all stakeholders in the process: Emerald is aware that many stakeholders are expected to become an author overnight, or know what is expected of a reviewer. We will continue to work on our guidelines and guidance to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them at which stage.

Editors to maintain perspective: This may seem an obvious one, but we will continue to work with our Editors on perspective; that just because they may not be an expert on a particular area, this is not grounds for a rejection, and could be an opportunity to widen the authorship of the journal. Reviewers should be selected sensitively to ensure they have the expertise to review a paper outside of the traditional thinking of a journal.

Encouraging wider representation in the review process

Driving diversity in reviewer pools and editorial boards: We will work with Editors to seek reviewers and editorial board members from places they wouldn’t usually look, to advertise vacancies for editorial positions publicly, or to post open calls for interest to join the journal board.

Early Career Researcher Mentorship on developing reviews: As well as ensuring reviewers know what is expected of them, be it via guidance or training, we will also explore opportunities around established Editorial board members providing mentorship to Early Career Researchers around submitting to journals, but also about how to be a constructive and fair reviewer.

Policies to handle any claims of discrimination in the peer review process: Along with our grievance procedure, we will develop clear policies and processes to handle any allegations of discriminatory behaviour in the peer review process.

Rewarding reviewers: We need to do better at incentivising reviewers to ensure that they feel recognised. For many reviewers who are juggling many responsibilities (childcare, multiple jobs, caring for a relative), we need to ensure they can consider reviewing a valuable task. Some journals who have open peer review additionally publish reviewer names on the final article to show their contribution. Emerald reviewers can sign up for Publons to receive recognition for the reviews they have completed.

Review for career progression: Drawing on the above, we will try to work with academic institutions to encourage them to value reviewing activities as a credit, or something that counts towards assessment.

Speak up: We will endeavour to regularly survey our reviewers, or to hold focus rooms on our Engage platform (that anyone with a free account can participate in) to ensure that our processes are inclusive, and that we are serving reviewer needs.

There is much to be done, but we hope that by taking some of these actions, we are moving in the right direction.