Are you confused about peer review? It’s normal: Lots of early career researchers are in the same boat 

Most people embark on an MSc or PhD because they are really interested in research and are motivated to learn more about a particular subject area. Perhaps you’ve met and started to work with an inspiring supervisor, or as part of a great team? Conducting research and writing articles for publication can be very enjoyable and empowering experiences.

Our Charlesworth Knowledge training courses (booked via Institutions) and face-to-face consultancy services are aimed at early career researchers (ECRs) and can help with the writing and publication process, especially in countries where English is not spoken as the first language. Writing and publication-based training is also becoming more and more common as part of PhD courses, in structured graduate schools and as a component of research networks. What’s almost never taught to ECRs, however, is how to deal with peer review: what happens to your paper once it’s been submitted to an academic journal?

A researcher's experiences with peer review

A member of the Charlesworth Knowledge team, who is also a highly experienced editor and active researcher in the fields of geology and palaeontology, reflects on his early experiences with peer review:

“I’ll never forget submitting my first research article: it went off in the post to an American society journal and about two months later the editor wrote me an email to ask for some suggestions for ‘suitable peer reviewers’. I’d not included any in my cover letter. I had no idea how to write a cover letter.”

“I also had no idea about peer reviewers. I had assumed that my article would just be assessed by the editor and then just published. I went to ask my supervisor and he told me to make a list of the authors of papers I had cited in my own work and then pick four of five names to send back. I was ‘learning while doing’ and not really being very effective, as you can probably tell.”

Lack of training for peer review

Perhaps your experiences have been similar to this? At Charlesworth Knowledge, we know that the peer review process is one of the big ‘black holes’ of early career training. People are just expected to learn about this ‘on the job’; indeed, many ECRs don’t actually come into contact with the peer review process until they write and submit their first actual paper.

Even if you are lucky enough to be enrolled in a structured PhD or graduate school education programme, the chances are that peer review training will not be covered. You’ll likely learn research, career and personal development skills but not about peer review even though this process really is the cornerstone of academic publishing. Navigating peer review is therefore one of the key issues faced by ECRs.

Common concerns of ECRs during peer review

  • When submitting a paper to a journal how should you approach choosing appropriate reviewers? What criteria should you use? Who should you not select? Is the journal likely to honour your suggestions?

  • Is it ok to contact peer reviewers directly during the manuscript submission process?

  • Why do some journals and reviewers insist on remaining anonymous?

Addressing peer review concerns

There are actually two topics here that academics would benefit from learning about:

It’s quite normal to be confused about peer review and it’s also quite normal to receive no training in this area as part of your PhD or from your home university. But we can help. Know more below.


How we can help with peer review

If you have questions about academic writing in general then why not get in touch with one of our team at Charlesworth Author Services? We are particularly well positioned to help because our expert editing services are applicable to all publishing models. Our Premium Editing Service actually includes pre-peer review in which one of our PhD-level editors examines your paper and provides suggestions and comments that are likely to come up in peer review. Using this service can save you considerable time: pre-empt the comments you are likely to receive from actual journal peer review and fix issues before submission. You can find out more about this service here.

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

Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Knowledge.

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