PEER REVIEW PROCESS
JOURNAL OF DIGITAL EDUCATION, COMMUNICATION, AND ARTS (DECA) receives many more submissions than they can publish. Therefore, to be published in this journal, a paper should meet four general criteria:
1. Provides strong evidence for its conclusions.
2. Novel (we do not consider meeting report abstracts and preprints on community servers to compromise novelty).
3. Of extreme importance to scientists in the specific field.
4. Ideally, interesting to researchers in other related disciplines.
In general, to be acceptable, a paper should represent an advance in understanding likely to influence thinking in the field. There should be a discernible reason why the work deserves the visibility of publication in this journal.
The Review Process
All submitted manuscripts are read by the editorial staff. To save time for authors and peer-reviewers, only those papers that seem most likely to meet our editorial criteria are sent for formal review. Those papers judged by the editors to be of insufficient general interest or otherwise inappropriate are rejected promptly without external review (although these decisions may be based on informal advice from specialists in the field).
Manuscripts judged to be of potential interest to our readership are sent for formal review, typically to two or three reviewers, but sometimes more if special advice is needed (for example on statistics or a particular technique). The editors then make a decision based on the reviewers' advice, from among several possibilities:
Accept, with or without editorial revisions
Invite the authors to revise their manuscript to address specific concerns before a final decision is reached
Reject, but indicate to the authors that further work might justify a resubmission
Reject outright, typically on grounds of specialist interest, lack of novelty, insufficient conceptual advance or major technical and/or interpretational problems
Reviewers are welcome to recommend a particular course of action, but they should bear in mind that the other reviewers of a particular paper may have different technical expertise and/or views, and the editors may have to make a decision based on conflicting advice. The most useful reports, therefore, provide the editors with the information on which a decision should be based. Setting out the arguments for and against publication is often more helpful to the editors than a direct recommendation one way or the other.
Editorial decisions are not a matter of counting votes or numerical rank assessments, and we do not always follow the majority recommendation. We try to evaluate the strength of the arguments raised by each reviewer and by the authors, and we may also consider other information not available to either party. Our primary responsibilities are to our readers and to the researcher community at large, and in deciding how best to serve them, we must weigh the claims of each paper against the many others also under consideration.
We may return to reviewers for further advice, particularly in cases where they disagree with each other, or where the authors believe they have been misunderstood on points of fact. We therefore ask that reviewers should be willing to provide follow-up advice as requested. We are very aware, however, that reviewers are usually reluctant to be drawn into prolonged disputes, so we try to keep consultation to the minimum we judge necessary to provide a fair hearing for the authors.
When reviewers agree to assess a paper, we consider this a commitment to review subsequent revisions. However, editors will not send a resubmitted paper back to the reviewers if it seems that the authors have not made a serious attempt to address the criticisms.
We take reviewers' criticisms seriously; in particular, we are very reluctant to disregard technical criticisms. In cases where one reviewer alone opposes publication, we may consult the other reviewers as to whether s/he is applying an unduly critical standard. We occasionally bring in additional reviewers to resolve disputes, but we prefer to avoid doing so unless there is a specific issue, for example a specialist technical point, on which we feel a need for further advice.
Reviewer selection is critical to the publication process, and we base our choice on many factors, including expertise, reputation, specific recommendations and our own previous experience of a reviewer's characteristics. For instance, we avoid using people who are slow, careless, or do not provide reasoning for their views, whether harsh or lenient.
We check with potential reviewers before sending them manuscripts to review. Reviewers should bear in mind that these messages contain confidential information, which should be treated as such.
Writing the Review
The primary purpose of the review on DECA journal is to provide the editors with the information needed to reach a decision but the review should also instruct the authors on how they can strengthen their paper to the point where it may be acceptable. As far as possible, a negative review should explain to the authors the major weaknesses of their manuscript, so that rejected authors can understand the basis for the decision and see in broad terms what needs to be done to improve the manuscript for publication elsewhere. Referees should not feel obliged to provide detailed, constructive advice regarding minor criticisms of the manuscript if it does not meet the criteria for the journal (as outlined in the letter from the editor when asking for the review). Referees should be aware that authors of declined manuscripts may request that referee comments be transferred to another journal where they can be used to determine suitability of publication at the receiving journal.
Confidential comments to the editor are welcome, but it is helpful if the main points are stated in the comments for transmission to the authors. The ideal review should answer the following questions:
Who will be interested in reading the paper, and why?
What are the main claims of the paper and how significant are they?
Is the paper likely to be one of the five most significant papers published in the discipline this year?
How does the paper stand out from others in its field?
Are the claims novel? If not, which published papers compromise novelty?
Are the claims convincing? If not, what further evidence is needed?
Are there other experiments or work that would strengthen the paper further?
How much would further work improve it, and how difficult would this be? Would it take a long time?
Are the claims appropriately discussed in the context of previous literature?
If the manuscript is unacceptable, is the study sufficiently promising to encourage the authors to resubmit?
If the manuscript is unacceptable but promising, what specific work is needed to make it acceptable?
DECA is committed to rapid editorial decisions and publication, and we believe that an efficient editorial process is a valuable service both to our authors and to the scientific community as a whole. We, therefore, ask reviewers to respond promptly within the number of days agreed. If reviewers anticipate a longer delay than previously expected, we ask them to let us know so that we can keep the authors informed and, where necessary, find alternatives.
We do not release reviewers' identities to authors or to other reviewers, except when reviewers specifically ask to be identified. Unless they feel strongly, however, we prefer that reviewers should remain anonymous throughout the review process and beyond. Before revealing their identities, reviewers should consider the possibility that they may be asked to comment on the criticisms of other reviewers and on further revisions of the manuscript; identified reviewers may find it more difficult to be objective in such circumstances.
We ask reviewers not to identify themselves to authors without the editor's knowledge. If they wish to reveal their identities while the manuscript is under consideration, this should be done via the editor, or if this is not practicable, we ask authors to inform the editor as soon as possible after the reviewer has revealed his or her identity to the author.
We deplore any attempt by authors to confront reviewers or determine their identities. Our own policy is to neither confirm nor deny any speculation about reviewers' identities, and we encourage reviewers to adopt a similar policy.
Editing referees' reports
As a matter of policy, we do not suppress reviewers' reports; any comments that were intended for the authors are transmitted, regardless of what we may think of the content. On rare occasions, we may edit a report to remove offensive language or comments that reveal confidential information about other matters. We ask reviewers to avoid statements that may cause needless offence; conversely, we strongly encourage reviewers to state plainly their opinion of a paper. Authors should recognize that criticisms are not necessarily unfair simply because they are expressed in robust language.
The peer-review system
It is editors' experience that the peer-review process is an essential part of the publication process, which improves the manuscripts our journals publish. Not only does peer review provide an independent assessment of the importance and technical accuracy of the results described, but the feedback from referees conveyed to authors with the editors' advice frequently results in manuscripts being refined so that their structure and logic is more readily apparent to readers.
DECA is appreciative of its peer-reviewers, of whom there are many tens of thousands. It is only by collaboration with our reviewers that editors can ensure that the manuscripts we publish are among the most important in their disciplines of scientific research. We appreciate the time that reviewers devote to assessing the manuscripts we send them, which helps ensure that DECA publishes only material of the very highest quality. In particular, many submitted manuscripts contain large volumes of additional (supplementary) data and other material, which take time to evaluate. We thank our reviewers for their continued commitment to our publication process.
Reviewing Peer Review
The goals of peer review are both lofty and mundane. It is the responsibility of journals to administer an effective review system. Peer review is designed to select technically valid research of significant interest. Referees are expected to identify flaws, suggest improvements and assess novelty. If the manuscript is deemed important enough to be published in a high visibility journal, referees ensure that it is internally consistent, thereby ferreting out spurious conclusions or clumsy frauds.
One problem with manuscript selection is the inherent tension between referees and authors. Referees wish for only the most solid science to be published, yet when they 'switch hats' to that of author, they desire quick publication of their novel ideas and approaches. Authors of papers that blow against the prevailing winds bear a far greater burden of proof than normally expected in publishing their challenge to the current paradigm. Veering too far in one direction or the other leads to complaints either that peer review isn't stringent enough, or that it is stifling the freshest research. It is the job of the editors to try to avoid both extremes.
Journal editors do not expect peer review to ferret out cleverly concealed, deliberate deceptions. A peer reviewer can only evaluate what the authors chose to include in the manuscript. This contrasts with the expectation in the popular press that peer review is a process by which fraudulent data is detected before publication (although that sometimes happens).
We are continually impressed with peer review's positive impact on almost every paper we publish. Even papers that are misunderstood by reviewers are usually rewritten and improved before resubmission. Mistakes are made, but peer review, through conscientious effort on the part of referees, helps to protect the literature, promote good science and select the best. Until a truly viable alternative is provided, we wouldn't have it any other way.