The peer review process

As an early career researcher, feedback from reviewers can feel like a bit of punch in the stomach. You pour your heart and soul into your research and negative feedback from reviewers can therefore feel very personal. From the multiple rounds of feedback we got going through the process of getting the guideline analysis published I’ve learnt to try and not take this feedback personally. At the end of the day, the peer review process is there to improve the quality of research reporting and to make sure that the final product is as good as it can be. The most productive and helpful feedback for me definitely came from the IJPP process. The comments from the reviewers definitely made the article better. However, some comments from other journals (such as that unlicensed medicines didn’t exist) were extremely frustrating, and also requests to report the work as a systematic review (which in the end we decided this wasn’t) were also annoying.

Examples of constructive feedback we received from peer review comments included:

  • Asking if we had contacted guideline authors to get additional information to support scoring using AGREE II, and if not to include this as a limitation
  • That the Drug Tariff as a UK specific documented needed explanation
  • Asking what the backgrounds were for each of the researchers, so that readers could know what our frame of reference was when evaluating the guidelines
  • One reviewer also highlighted the value of our work and suggested that we should do qualitative research, which of course we went on to do.

My experience of publishing the EMULSION findings does lead me to question some of the culture around the peer review process. It’s certainly not very early-career researcher friendly. Having support from senior academic colleagues who were able to reassure me that the research quality was good, and that some of the not-so-constructive feedback comments were exactly that, definitely kept my resilience going throughout the whole process. I do now think that submitting to early career researcher conferences can be a way to ease yourself into the peer review process in a much more friendly way, for example I would definitely recommend the supportive approach that the UKCPA take when providing feedback on abstracts to their conference.

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