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Peer review best practice

Turnaround times

Time to first decision can be a major factor for authors deciding where to submit their paper. The turnaround times considered to be competitive by authors will vary by discipline, but your Publishing Editor can work with you to find ways to optimize the time to first decision for your journal.

Reviewer feedback

Providing clear guidance to reviewers will improve the quality of their feedback, giving you greater support in making editorial decisions and providing a better service for your authors. Some journals will supply a form for reviewers to complete; others ask reviewers to comment on particular aspects of the paper. You might ask your reviewers to consider the following:

  • Is the paper original?
  • Is the paper clearly written?
  • Is it methodologically sound; is the author’s theory or argument credible?
  • Does the paper adhere to appropriate ethical guidelines?
  • Are methods described clearly enough for others to replicate?
  • Does it have results which are clearly presented and support the conclusions?
  • Does it correctly reference previous relevant work?
  • Does it make a sufficiently novel contribution to the field to warrant publication in your journal?
  • If the paper is not suitable as submitted, is it worth developing?

Please visit the Sage Reviewer Gateway to see the sort of things you should be expecting a reviewer to be considering in their review. Your Publishing Editor can work with you to optimize the reviewer feedback for your journal.

Reaching a final decision

In general, Sage strongly recommends obtaining two independent external reviews that have addressed the paper in detail, though in practice the number of reviewers you use may vary depending on your field, the particular topic being discussed and the quality of the manuscript (i.e. a borderline manuscript may require a third – or fourth – opinion). Where two or more reviewers have made conflicting suggestions as to how the paper could be improved, you can guide the author as to which you consider to be most important. Whilst the peer review process can support your decision-making, you are not obliged to follow your reviewers’ recommendations.

That said, it is very important that the comments authors receive address the paper's content in depth, providing constructive criticisms of the methodology, the research and its presentation, as well as any other suggestions or observations that might help them in carrying out a revision. If the reviews are insubstantial, focus solely on spelling/grammar or raise any other cause for concern, a further review should be sought.

The journal’s peer review policy is specified in the submission guidelines. For transparency and in light of increased public interest in the peer review process, Editors may wish to include provenance statements in published articles (e.g. “Provenance: not commissioned; externally peer reviewed by two reviewers”), especially if the peer review of a particular manuscript differs from the stated policy. Please liaise with your Publishing Editor if you wish to implement these statements.

For revised manuscripts, if the suggested changes are minor and if, on reviewing the revision against previous reviewer comments, you as the Editor feel that your own concerns and the concerns of the reviewers have been addressed to your satisfaction, it is not required that you send the revision back out to reviewers for comment. By only sending revisions back out to reviewers where you feel it is absolutely necessary you can help reduce reviewer fatigue and also keep turnaround times down to a minimum.

Communicating your final decision to reviewers is good practice and helps foster a sense of loyalty and community.

Rewarding reviewers

Reviewers make a significant contribution to the publishing process that often goes unrecognized. Sage supports a range of initiatives that acknowledge reviewers’ support:

  • Many journals feature a ‘thank you to reviewers’ list in the final issue of the volume to give their reviewers some public recognition. Talk to your Publishing Editor if you would like to include a ‘thank you to reviewers’ in your journal.
  • It is also worthwhile, when revising the composition of your Editorial Board, to ‘promote’ prolific reviewers to the Board to formally acknowledge their contribution.
  • Sage supports Web of Science Reviewer Recognition, a third-party service that enables reviewers to claim credit for completed reviews. Anyone can create an account and submit details of their reviews, Web of Science Reviewer Recognition. Ask your Publishing Editor if your journal is not currently integrated with Web of Science Reviewer Recognition for this to be set up.
  • In recognition of the invaluable role that reviewers play in the peer review process, Sage offers all reviewers 60 days free access to all Sage Journals as well as a discount of 25% on Sage books each time they submit a review. 

More information and additional resources are available on the Sage Reviewer Gateway