Peering over each other’s shoulders to check someone else’s work is an integral part of science. It allows for objective evaluation that can sometimes be hard to achieve when you’re too invested in your own ideas.

This process, known as peer review, was first used around 5,000 years ago by ancient Sumerians. Since then, it has been adapted and perfected across many fields, from philosophy to medicine to engineering.

Nowadays, it is one of the most important tools at every academic researcher’s disposal. Without it, conducting meaningful research would be impossible!

But what exactly is peer review? And how does it help scientists make sound conclusions? Let’s take a closer look.


First off, let’s agree on what defines a “peer”. A scientist with respect to another will usually have at least a PhD degree (most often beyond phd status), are in the same field, and typically do not hold any higher degrees than the other person.

That being said, there is no universal definition of what constitutes a “peers” in academia. Some experts feel that having published papers before is enough, while others require those papers to be under their editorial control or endorsement.

No matter who uses them, though, peers are individuals whose opinions you value and trust.

Who reviews your work?

how do scientists use peer review

After you write up your research project, you must find people to read it and give you their opinion. These individuals are referred to as reviewers.

Typically, there are two types of peer review: external and internal. External reviewers are typically professors in related fields that you want feedback from. They will not necessarily agree with what you say, but they can add some valuable insights to your paper.

External reviewers are usually recruited through professional academic organizations such as the Society for Neuroscience or other neuroscience conferences. A meeting is held where both you and the reviewer get time to talk for a few minutes and then the reviewer checks out your manuscript.

Internal reviewers are members of your own department or someone at another university that you know and trust. They may be involved in similar projects so they can provide more objective comments than an outsider would.

Most scientific journals have both internal and external reviewing processes in place to ensure quality content and sound conclusions.

What does peer review consist of?

how do scientists use peer review

As mentioned before, academic papers are not written in a fluid style without significant editing.

Instead, they are edited harshly and repeatedly until they’re perfect. This is where peer reviewer comes into play!

Peer reviewers are individuals that evaluate an article or paper independently to determine if it is well-written and accurate. These individuals may be professional writers or PhDs with expertise in the field, making their criticism very credible.

Their comments will usually focus on whether the arguments made sense and if the writing was easy to understand. Sometimes they will comment about grammar and spelling, as well.

By having many different people check your paper, there are always at least two sets of eyes looking for mistakes. This can help ensure that the work is flawless after all the revisions have been made.

What are the different types of peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

Different academic fields use various strategies for seeking input from your peers. In some cases, you have to ask people to evaluate your work before it is published so that others can give their feedback. This is what we refer to as pre-publication peer review.

In other instances, once your paper has been accepted, then it goes through another process known as post-publication peer review. Here, members of the community can read the paper and provide comments or criticisms.

However, not all journals offer this option and even those that do may not always allow readers to comment directly using their own names. That’s why there are sometimes anonymous reviews where someone who does not know the author provides valuable insights by pointing out strengths and weaknesses in the article.

By having these different types of evaluations, your work will definitely be challenged but also enhanced by the quality comments.

What are the different levels of peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

The term “peer reviewer” refers to someone who reviews another person’s work. This can be an expert in related fields that critique the work of others. It can also be an outside observer, such as a professor you have never met before but who has studied your field extensively.

In academia, there is an additional level of peer review known as “second-level” or “higher level” peer review. Second-level reviewers are usually people with greater prominence than first-level peers, which typically include professors at their institution or individuals in similar academic positions.

Higher level peer review is critical for two reasons. First, it adds weight to the process by including input from experts. Second, higher level reviewers check not only whether the research being reviewed is sound, but if the researcher(s) conducting it are trustworthy individuals.

What are the different types of feedback in peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

The most well-known type is comments and critiques on published work. These are typically referred to as reviews or comments. As you can imagine, this can be tricky for reviewers to do because there’s always another paper they need to read before they can give their full opinion.

However, not only does giving meaningful criticism help the author improve his or her work, it also helps the reader assess the quality of the work!

Another common form of peer review is commentaries. A commentary is similar to a review, but instead of just stating an opinion, the reviewer will usually try to explain why the work being commented on is good or bad. This gives more depth to the critique and helps readers understand the work better.

Yet another type of peer review is called rebuttal. Rebuttals focus more on criticizing the weaknesses of the paper rather than offering praise, but they are still helpful for bringing attention to potential issues that may exist.

What are the different types of reviews in peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

The most well-known type is usually referred to as a research paper or article review. This is when one reviewer gets an early draft of another writer’s work and then has to summarize it and give their opinion.

Some examples of this include academic papers, book reviews, and reports. These are typically limited to few pages and few comments due to time constraints, so they are not very detailed.

Interim reports and final reports are two more common variations of article reviews. An interim report is often done within months of the initial study, and a final report can take years depending on how long it takes for the researcher to complete their studies and write up their findings.

Another type of review that is popular is a systematic review. A systematic review looks at all of the available evidence on a topic to see if there are any good strategies to help people achieve your goal (or whether there is none).

What makes a good systematic review

It must be clear what you want to know about the intervention/topic being studied.

You have to determine if the interventions are appropriate for the population (yours) that will use them.

You also need to make sure that there are no other alternatives that may work better (and thus undermine the effectiveness of the current intervention).

Finally, you have to assess the quality of the studies using valid tools to evaluate qualitative and quantitative research.

What are the different types of feedback in peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

The other key component to ensuring high quality research is providing appropriate critique or criticism to what you read. This is called “peer review” because your reviewer becomes like a colleague that gives their opinion about your paper.

Typically, there will be at least two reviewers per paper, which means each reviewer gets a chance to comment on the paper. Sometimes only one reviewer is needed as it can be determined if another person has reviewed some part of the paper already and the same concepts have been conveyed.

When both reviewers agree on major points of an article then this creates a lot of cohesion within the article and confirms its importance for understanding content related to the topic it covers. If however, they come up with very different ideas about the significance of an article, it shows that it may not be clear how well understood the material is.

This can sometimes lead to papers being published even though they are not fully vetted. It also causes issues when trying to assess the reliability and credibility of an author who uses studies that have weak methodology and/or false results.

What are the different types of reviews in peer review?

how do scientists use peer review

The two main components of peer review are reviewer comments and editor feedback.

Reviewer comments typically begin with an introduction and then a discussion or critique of one of the article’s major points. These comments are usually very detailed and focused, making it hard to miss anything important that the author may have left out.

The reviewers’ comments also go into more detail about why they thought certain parts of the paper were strong or weak. This gives the reader even more insight as to how well versed in their field the authors are and whether or not their ideas seemed solid.

Editor feedback comes from either the editorial board or individual editors at a journal. Similar to reviewer comments, these give us insights into whether or not the paper was outside of the norm and therefore needed extra attention before being accepted.