Citation Butchard D, Rowberry S, Squires C & Tasker G (2017) Peer Review in Practice. In: Rayner S & Lyons R (eds.) Academic Book of the Future: BOOC. London: UCL Press. https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/BOOC/Article/1/57/; https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781911307679.15
Peer review constitutes one of the more paradoxical elements of academic research and dissemination: it is common for academics to complain about unhelpful feedback from their latest review, but the process is simultaneously seen as one of the bedrocks of assuring the quality of research. It does not take long to find anecdotal evidence of the value or pitfalls of peer review in trade publications such as the Times Higher Education or The Chronicle of Higher Education. Asked to share her own ‘horror stories’ in peer review for the Times Higher Education, Susan Bassnett comments that ‘it seems like a fine idea for work submitted to a journal, publisher or funding body to be assessed anonymously by independent experts’, but fears peer review ‘has grown into a monster’ as a result of an increasing volume of work requiring review, with detrimental effects for both authors and reviewers.
Such comments suggest an urgent need to reconsider review practices. However, it is rare to see a scholarly examination of the process, and this report sets out to address this by evaluating key aspects of academic discussion of peer review. The following report considers the diverse range of practices that constitute peer review in both publishing and institutional structures, examining the history of peer review, and evaluating how innovative alternative models aim to resolve pressures on the current system. It does so with a particular focus on peer review in the Arts and Humanities (in connection with the AHRC Academic Book of the Future project), while looking at wider disciplinary and publishing considerations. Peer review is an expansive topic, and our research has revealed a number of fruitful avenues for future evaluation which we have not been able to cover in detail here. These include the selection and crediting of reviewers, the role of peer review in creative practice, the advent of paid review platforms, and the use of metrics as an alternative means of quantifying research value and impact. In particular, our discussion of peer review for publications emphasises practice in scholarly journals, as that is largely where discussion in scholarly and other literature focuses. However, further primary investigation might consider equivalent issues in the field of monograph publishing.
Given the parameters of our study, alongside an evolving environment for peer review, and our own wish to experiment with peer review modes, this report is offered for post-publication peer review. We encourage readers to submit comments and suggestions additional sources and references, and for new avenues of research.