Understanding the Stages of Peer Review

Peer review acts as a quality check on academic literature, defined as ‘a formal system whereby a piece of academic work is scrutinised by people who were not involved in its creation but are considered knowledgeable about the subject’ [BMJ, 2002; Accessed 17 May 2016]. The peer review process ensures that all manuscripts submitted to journals meet certain standards, with most journals following similar steps [Taylor & Francis, 2016; Accessed 17 May 2016].

Peer review consists of the three main stages.

1. Editor assessment

 The editor will evaluate the manuscript, asking questions such as:

  • Is this paper relevant to the journal’s scope?
  • Has the author followed the journal’s guidelines correctly?
  • Has the author declared a conflict of interest?
  • Does this paper have value (i.e. will readers find the paper interesting and informative)?

2. Peer review 

The editor will ask several academics and researchers to read and review the manuscript. These reviewers will be experts in the field concerned (the editor may ask you to suggest some possible reviewers if your field is particularly niche/specialized), and will check that the paper meets the following criteria:

  • The work within must be original and add new concepts or findings to academic literature.
  • The study design and methodology used must be appropriate, ethical and easy to replicate.
  • Results must be shown clearly and appropriately.
  • Conclusions must be reliable, logical, and significant.
  • The work must be of a high enough standard to be published in a journal.

Reviewers will also give more general feedback, offering authors advice on how to improve the manuscript or study methodology. They also advise the editor on whether the paper is ready to be published (‘Accept’), is promising but requires more work (‘Accept with Changes’) or is not suitable for or does not meet the standards of the journal (‘Reject’).

3. Revise and resubmit

Most papers will require at least a small amount of revision before journals are prepared to accept them for publication, giving you a chance to improve your manuscript with the reviewers’ advice in mind. Authors are responsible for making changes to the scientific content of their manuscripts, but there are services available (such as ours) to help with issues like language, grammar and journal formatting.

Authors should write a ‘response to reviewers’ letter to accompany their resubmission. This gives authors the opportunity to explain what they have done to incorporate the reviewers’ suggestions.

If the reviewers made suggestions that you did not agree with or implement, or questioned something about your methodology, this is also your opportunity to explain your reasoning and decisions.

Once your revised manuscript has been checked again by reviewers, the editor will make the final decision on the paper.

Checking progress at every stage

Journals understand that after putting so much time and effort into creating their work, it is natural for authors to be anxious while their paper is being considered. Therefore, most journals that use online submission systems allow authors to check the progress of their paper through the peer review process. Authors can be alerted by email whenever their manuscript moves to a new stage or a decision is made, and they have the option of logging into their accounts to check the status of their paper manually.


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