Defining the roles and tasks of peer reviewers – a scoping review

Roles of peer reviewers (Glonti et al. 2019)

A new scoping review has emerged from the MiRoR group, which begins the process of formally defining the roles and tasks of the peer review process, with the aim of quantifying, qualifying and establishing measures of quality. It is a companion article to the Galipeau et al. scoping review on competencies for scientific editors published in 2016 and the resultant Core Competencies Consensus Statement (Moher et al. 2017).

This reviewer-focused paper, authored by Keti Glonti, Daniel Cauchi, Erik Cobo, Isabelle Boutron, David Moher and Darko Hren, is titled A scoping review on the roles and tasks of peer reviewers in the manuscript review process in biomedical journals, and may lead to a similar competency framework being developed.

The paper is based on an analysis of 222 articles drawn from key database sources such as Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, as well as grey literature, and peer review training resources such as the Publons Academy.

A total of 1426 statements were extracted from these articles, with a mention of roles of peer reviewers in biomedical journals. These were reduced to 76 unique statements and grouped into 13 themes.

2026 statements relating to peer review tasks were also extracted, and reduced to a total of 73 unique statements, grouped into six themes;

  • Organisation and approach to reviewing,
  • Make general comments,
  • Assess and address content for each section of the manuscript,
  • Address ethical aspects,
  • Assess manuscript presentation, and
  • Provide recommendations.

The article and its’ figures, such as the Roles diagram included in this article, highlight many recurring foundational features of peer review, which build towards defining a robust framework for training and skills development. Several peripheral tasks, such as copy-editing, and decision recommending appear less consistently, on which point the authors of this scoping review echo the sentiments of the editorial from Tenant et al. in our European Science Editing journal from February, finding inconsistencies between the roles of peer reviewer and editor; “For example, the link between peer reviewers’ recommendations and editorial decision-making—where the former typically informs the latter—is often unclear.

Glonti et al. (2019) A scoping review on the roles and tasks of peer reviewers in the manuscript review process in biomedical journals. BMC Medicine 17:118.