Setting up the peer review process

Mieka Webber discusses the initial stages of peer reviewing – and shares her tips for engaging reviewers

2 children talking In the fight to end child abuse we conduct and commission research to investigate issues affecting the wellbeing of children, young people and their families.

This research needs to be of a high quality so it can inform and shape child protection policy and practice.

To ensure that we can be confident that the work we produce is relevant, applicable and contributes to the evidence base, we ask subject experts who do not work for the NSPCC to review and critique our work.

In this post, I’m looking at the first stages of the peer review process and offering advice for anyone who wants to set up a peer review system.


The peer review process

We ask individuals with substantial practical experience if they would be willing to review our work. This includes those who are highly qualified in the subject area of the report or who have published extensively about the topic. We also approach people with relevant skills in research methodology and data analysis.

This is a valued way for academics and professionals to make an impact, helping us ensure the quality of our work and supporting our fight for every childhood.

Anonymous feedback

The peer review process is carried out “double-blind”. This means reviewers are not told the identity of the report authors, and vice versa. Giving assurances to reviewers that their comments will remain anonymous ensures they will provide an honest and critical appraisal of our research.

At times we ask for specific feedback on aspects of the report, though we are always open to more general feedback from reviewers.

Tips for approaching reviewers

These are my tips to help anybody who is liaising with peer reviewers.

1. Be clear and concise 
Be clear about what you want the reviewer to concentrate on but don’t bombard them with too much information in your first email. They should have enough information to make a judgement on whether or not they can help you but not so much they lose interest.

2. Provide context
Always provide plenty of background information. Explain why the research was conducted, the specific aims and purpose of the report, the intended audience and the message you’re trying to convey (remember to be clear and concise).

3. Give notice
Whether you’re liaising directly with potential reviewers or have a colleague who is responsible for this, make sure you give them as much advance notice as possible. Provide information on the subject area to help colleagues identify suitable professionals and help reviewers to identify if this is something they are interested in. Tell them when you anticipate the draft report to be ready and set a reasonable date for feedback to be provided. With this information they can make a sound judgement on whether it’s something they can fit into their schedule.

4. Prepare for seasonal dips
Many of your reviewers will be academics. There will be times of the year when they are particularly busy with marking or on annual leave: December and January or July and August tend to be particularly difficult months for academic reviewers to look at reports. Factor this into your publication timeline.

5. Manage relationships positively
It helps to set up a comprehensive customer relationship management system. If you don’t have funding to invest in dedicated software, Excel is a great tool to keep track of requests and correspondence. Always be friendly and polite with reviewers, spending time making sure the process is straightforward and enjoyable for them. Keep them updated with changes and send reminders when reports are due or feedback is expected.

6. Find the right professionals
When you’re looking for professionals make the most of your internal networks: is there a colleague who might be able to point you in the direction of an external expert willing to support a review? Once you have a reviewer in mind, look at their CV, academic profile and a list of work they’ve had published to get a clear idea of their area of expertise.

7. Consider project management training
Demands will change depending on the needs of your organisation, and you’ll usually need to manage the peer review process in conjunction with other responsibilities. It may be useful to have some project management training to manage the process as successfully as possible.

Next steps

Setting up a peer review process takes time and a certain level of commitment. But it’s a really important part of ensuring the quality of research. That’s why we’ve embedded peer reviewing into our research process and in the long term we aim to have all the research we publish peer reviewed.

Could you peer review our research? 

If you would like to register your interest in peer reviewing for the NSPCC please let us know.

Get in touch

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