Are Registered Reports the future of peer review?

Academics all know how peer review works: we complete a piece of research, write it up, and then submit to an academic journal which then (hopefully) sends it out for consideration and comments by other ‘experts in the field’, the so-called ‘peer reviewers’. So far so good.

Peer review presently

In leading journals, however, where rejection rates are high (up to 90% in outlets like Nature and Science) just getting your paper past an editor and out for review can be a very significant milestone.

Indeed, it’s the very fact that journals use peer reviewers to assess their content that gives them value: authors want to publish in outlets listed in scholarly databases (such as Web of Science and Scopus) and that hopefully also have high impact factors. The use of peer reviewers is absolutely critical to the reputations of academic journals; the process takes place after the research has been completed and submitted.

Emergence of Registered Reports

There is another way to get published in the peer-reviewed literature that is gaining traction across academia. What if you could get your research design and methodology peer-reviewed before you start with data collection? What if you could start your experimental work and analyses already safe in the knowledge that your final paper will be accepted in your target journal of choice so long as you adhere to the methods and approaches you’ve already outlined in a pre-proposal?

This is the concept that underlies Registered Reports (RRs), an increasingly popular open science article publishing model. Once peer-reviewed, RR proposals are then posted online on a journal’s open access (OA) site where other colleagues and interested parties also get the chance to comment and critique the work, again often before data has been collected. In sum, RRs are empirical journal articles the same as any other, but here methods and proposed analyses are pre-registered and peer-reviewed prior to research being conducted.

Advocated by the Center for Open Science (COS), RRs consist of high quality protocols that are provisionally accepted for publication before data collection commences. The clear advantages of this publishing approach include ensuring that research adheres to scientific protocols before it even starts as well as eliminating a variety of questionable research practices, including low statistical power, selective reporting of results and publication bias.

How RR works

RR authors initially submit a Stage 1 manuscript that includes an Introduction, Methods and the results of any pilot experiments that motivate the research proposal. These are then assessed by editors and reviewers and, at this stage, the manuscript can be offered in-principle acceptance (IPA). A journal will guarantee publication if authors conduct their experiments in accordance with the approved protocol.

Researchers can then proceed to perform their experiments with an IPA in hand and then, following data collection, resubmit a Stage 2 manuscript that includes the Introduction and Methods from the original submission plus the Results and Discussion. No changes are allowed to the Introduction or Methods after Stage 1, an innovation that authors actually really approve of: One recent report actually highlighted this as a distinct advantage of RRs. A final complete RR article is then published and will look just the same as any other peer-reviewed research article except that readers can be confident that the hypotheses, data collection and main analyses are problem free.

If this publishing model appeals to you or if you have questions about academic writing in general then why not get in touch with one of our team at Charlesworth?


How we can help

We are particularly well positioned to help because our expert editing services are agnostic to publishing models. Why not get your writing edited and polished by one of our PhD-level specialists working in your research field?

Our training courses, online materials and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and maximise your potential as a researcher.

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