Peer review (PR) is an essential component of the scientific process. During PR, the author(s)’ work is subjected to the scrutiny of other experts in the same field. It serves as a ‘check-point” of the scientific process, enhancing the quality, accuracy, validity and appropriateness of scholarly content prior to dissemination. The Annals of African Surgery (AAS) operates a double-blind PR, in which the identity of author(s) is hidden from the reviewer(s), and that of the reviewer(s) is hidden to author(s). We strive to ensure that the PR process is swift, fair and unbiased.
General guiding principles
1. Availability and timeliness- reviewers have a responsibility to act promptly and ensure they turn in their review within the specified timelines. If this is not possible, they should contact the Journal’s editorial office/ editor(s) to request for extension of the deadline.
2. Scope/competence- reviewers should decline invitation to review an article if it falls outside their area of expertise. As elaborated by the council of science editors (CSE), reviewers need not be expert in every aspect of the paper, but should only accept invitation to review a paper only if they have enough expertise to provide authoritative assessment.
3. Conflict of interest- reviewers should check for any potential conflict of interest (e.g., personal, professional, financial, contractual etc.) that might impair objectivity of the PR process. If present, the reviewer should either decline the invitation to review, or contact the editor and discuss on the best way forward. All reviewers of the Annals of African Surgery Journal are required to disclose any conflict of interest.
i. Reviewers should not upload a submitted manuscript or any part of it into a generative AI tool. Reviewers should also refrain from using an AI tool to improve the language or readability of their peer review report. Chatbots retain the information fed to them, including the content of the manuscript, and providing a chatbot with access to an author's manuscript violates the confidentiality of the submitted manuscript.
ii. Materials subjected to PR process are privilege contents that should be handled with utmost confidentiality to protect the author(s)’ work and identity. These materials should not be used for any other purpose other than PR, and should not be shared with anyone outside the PR process unless authorized by the editor.
5. Constructive criticism- reviewers should identify and acknowledge positive aspects of the paper, constrictively highlight negative aspects, and provide suggestions for improvement. As recommended by the CSE, all comments to the author(s) should be courteous and capable of withstanding public scrutiny.
6. Impartiality- reviewer(s)’ comments/conclusions should be guided by objective assessment of facts, without any personal or professional bias. All review materials should be evaluated on the bases of their scientific soundness, originality and quality, irrespective of author(s)’ sex, religion, race or ethnicity.
How to perform peer review
We recommend a minimum of 2 reads of the material to be reviewed.
The initial read
The initial read (first read) usually helps a reviewer to gain a general opinion on the quality and novelty of the paper; and also flag any major flaws. It assesses the manuscript for suitability of publication, and sets stage for a more detailed and thorough evaluation (second read) of the review material. Important questions to consider during this initial read may include:
Relevance and contribution of the research question/topic in the background of existing body of knowledge/prevailing concepts in that field.
Overall clarity and ease of readability of the review material.
Accuracy and consistency of data/results throughout the entire paper
Consistency of the author’s conclusions with the findings of the paper.
Major flaws that can be flagged at this point include:
Replication of previous studies with no major contributions to the current body of knowledge.
Arguments and conclusions that are contradictory to the findings reported in the paper.
Data that is insufficient in support author(s)’ conclusions.
Unclear or erroneous data tables or graphical representation.
The second read (section-by-section evaluation)
This is usually a more detailed section-by-section evaluation of the review material. Ideal features of each section of the material under review are outlined below.
It should be descriptive enough, yet clear, concise and catchy.
i. It should have all the components (background, methods, results and conclusions).
ii. It should provide adequate and accurate summary of the whole paper without verbosity.
iii. The information/data should be consistent with the rest of the paper.
i. Provide an adequate context of the new research (set out an argument).
ii. Outline research clear gap (question) in the background of the pre-existing body of evidence.
iii. Provide clear significance of the problem/gap.
iv. State out study objective(s) clearly.
The methods employed in the study should be:
i. Replicable- it should have measures to reduce biases (selection, intervention, measurement etc.), ensuring that the observed findings are not likely to be due to chance, and can be replicated resulting in the same outcomes. These include:
Providing a proper definition and ensuring representativeness of the sample through use of clear inclusion/exclusion criteria, accurate sample size calculation, random sampling, consecutive recruitment, randomization (for RCTs) etc. to minimize selection bias.
Use of control groups (for comparative studies) that are comparable to the study group.
Priori definition of study end-points and variables, clear description of study timelines, methods of data collection etc.
Methods utilized to reduce inter- and intra-observer errors.
ii. Repeatable- the methods should be described in detail enough to be reproduced by other scientists. This include providing clear description of items e.g., study equipment, handling and processing of biological specimens etc.
iii. Robust- it should provide adequate data to support arguments in the discussion as well as conclusions of the paper. Some journals usually require authors to provide raw data as supplemental files for independent analysis by other individuals.
iv. Follow best practices-
It should follow prescribed guidelines e.g., CONSORT for randomized clinical trials, STROBE for observational studies and PRISMA/MOOSE guidelines for systematic reviews among others.
It should provide statements on ethical standards observed in the study.
All RCTs should have been registered in databases such as clinicaltrials.gov, and a registration number provided.
i. Results should be presented in a clear, concise and orderly manner, telling a coherent story while making appropriate and accurate reference to statistical analyses e.g., significance, confidence intervals etc.
ii. It should be provided in sufficient detail, supported by appropriate use of well-labelled images/graphs.
iii. The text should be consistent with information in tables and figures provided.
This section should provide:
i. Clear, focused and accurate interpretation of the results in the context of existing body of knowledge in that field.
ii. Plausible explanations for the observed findings.
iii. Implications of the observed findings.
iv. Study limitations and potential confounders.
v. Suggestions for future studies.
This should be succinct, and reflect the main findings of the study.
The reference should be up-to-date for the topic, complete (no missing references), formatted appropriately (as per prescribed formatting style), and adequate (all main arguments should be properly supported by references).
i. Tables and figures:
These should be:
i. Free of any alteration or manipulation.
ii. Used appropriately.
iii. Have contents consistent with the text in the main document.
iv. All be cited in the main document.
v. Meet prespecified quality (e.g., 300 dpi for images).
vi. Clearly labelled.
The paper should be clearly and grammatically written to ensure easy readability. Papers with significant grammatical errors and typos should be recommended for language editing by English-native speaker.
The reviewers should also evaluate the general layout and style of the paper, appropriate use of abbreviations, and level of plagiarism.
Reporting your review
The Annals of African Surgery prescribes a scheme of reporting peer review comments. This includes:
Providing comments for each section- we recommend that reviewers provide explanations to support their evaluations.
Providing a decision- this can be “reject”, “revise” (major or minor) or “accept”.
Providing comments to the editor-in-chief and authors- for this section, we recommend that reviewers provide 3-section feedback:
a. Summary- this includes aim of the paper and key findings to help contextualize their evaluation, novelty, significance and quality of the paper.
b. Major issues- the reviewer should indicate major issues observed in the paper, their impact on the quality of the paper, and offer suggestions on how to remedy the flaws to as to help the author make necessary corrections.
c. Minor issues
1. Council of Science Editors. Reviewer roles and responsibilities. Available online: https://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource-library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/2-3-reviewer-roles-and-responsibilities/
2. Kelly J, Sadeghieh T, Adeli K. Peer review in scientific publications: benefits, critiques, & a survival guide. Ejifcc. 2014 Oct;25(3):227.
3. Wiley Peer Review Resources. https://authorservices.wiley.com/Reviewers/index.html
4. Lippi G. How do I peer-review a scientific article?—a personal perspective. Annals of translational medicine. 2018 Feb;6(3).