Author: Luis-Miguel Romero – Translation: Erika-Lucia Gonzalez-Carrion

Scientific review is a commonly collegial process, usually involving two or more referees (peers), and even editorial staff, depending on the style of review that applies to the publication.

It is common for reviewers to disagree about the evaluation of a manuscript. We must remember that the scientific community itself is very dissimilar, from the perspective of epistemological approaches, methodological knowledge, ideologies, areas of expertise, contexts, among other aspects. In this sense, the results of review tend to coincide in some observations, while in others they are very different.

The decisions of the referees are usually dissimilar depending on the fact that each one has his school, his epistemological line, his ideology, his knowledge about methods, experiences, among other aspects.

The templates or review forms of scientific journals usually have various aspects of evaluation. For example, in the case of the Comunicar (link) journal, its evaluation protocol is quali-quantitative, that is, the reviewers present their comments in writing, while evaluating (with punctuation) each of these items, with a total of over 50 points (see example). In the case of Communicating, it is common for an article to be evaluated by between 5 and 8 reviewers, so the average score is fundamental for the editorial staff to decide – with objective criteria – on the publication of the text.

Meanwhile, other journals do not use a point rating system, but ask reviewers only for their written opinion. On some occasions, an overall opinion of the manuscript is requested, while on others the file is extensive and asks for an evaluation of the various sections of the article, such as title, summary, review of literature, materials and methods, results, discussion and conclusions, references, practical implications, prospects, originality, among other areas.

The point of coincidence in most review processes could be, in many cases, decisions on publication of the manuscript, four scenarios being possible:

Publishable (without modifications): Perhaps the least common decision, since every product is perfectible and an evaluation puts people with different ideas, approaches, experiences, etc., on notice. In the case of the decision of “Publishable” or “Publishable without modifications”, the authors should not make any changes and the editorial team will proceed to publish the article as it initially arrived at the journal.

Publishable with minor modifications: This decision is focused on requesting superficial or form changes from the authors. When minor changes are requested, they usually refer to aspects such as including more literature in the theoretical framework, increasing discussions, better explaining methods and procedures, or better organizing the findings (including explanatory tables or figures, for example). This is the most common decision when approving an article.

Publishable with major modifications: This is the intermediate state between publishable and non-publishable. When reviewers request major changes, they usually ask for substantive changes that usually involve a great deal of writing, refocusing and/or total or partial restructuring of the manuscript. Many times these changes mean redoing the research and modifying the objectives, so the authors usually decide at this stage whether to make the proposed modifications or try another publication.

Unpublishable: Without a doubt, the most feared decision, which puts an end to the editorial process of the manuscript. In any case, the decision of non-publishable should be accompanied by a detailed report with the written opinion of the reviewers, which serves the authors to improve the document before trying again in another publication.

It also often happens that reviewers decide the opposite: While one recommends minor changes, another decides not to publish. In these cases, the journal’s editorial staff must request a third review to settle the differences, and the decision of this third reviewer must be taken with respect to the manuscript, even though at the end the three reports are sent to the authors so that they can address all the observations.

In other cases it happens that one reviewer decides that there are only minor modifications and another one decides on major modifications. In both cases there is agreement that the manuscript is publishable, so there is not a great difference of opinion. In order to speed up the editorial process, the publications usually send these reports to the authors, requesting major changes, with the understanding that the authors must attend to each of the observations of both reviewers.

It is also common for journals to send the article back to the reviewers when changes (major and minor) are requested, so that they can confirm that the requested modifications were included. For this reason, it is highly recommended that the revised manuscript be sent with change control or with the changes highlighted, and even a separate document indicating, point by point, the changes made according to the recommendations. This guarantees not only that this process is as expeditious as possible, but also that the reviewers can check at a glance that their opinions were taken into account.

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