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Who are the reviewers and referees? Why do we need them?
Peer and expert reviewers (also known as referees) are typically required by academic publishers when the scope of a journal or book is broader than the scope of experience of the in-house editors and other staff. They are also needed in order to allow the publisher to concentrate financial and staff resources on the management and production of a journal or book.
Two kinds of need for reviewing can be recognised:
A special need for academic publishers to have content reviewed by researchers who have experience in fields related to those of the author(s) of research-based books or papers (such researchers are also the primary target audience for many research-based publications), and
A general need for academic, research, and teaching organisations to publish research-based materials that are relevant, significant, and comprehensible for non-academic or non-specialist target audiences. Ideally, such materials would reviewed by experts and also by non-experts in the target audience.
It is probably more usual for subject-experts to attempt wearing two hats by reading from the point of view of an expert, and then from the point of view of a reader unfamiliar with the subject.
Since our website is primarily aimed at research communities, it is unlikely that non-specialist target audiences will ever develop an interest in the site. Writers and publishers must find their own ways to approach non-specialist readers, if such readers are wanted as reviewers.
Note for publishers, book or journal editors, and editorial committees:
Qualified researchers and other subject specialists can use our forum to offer to review books and papers related to their areas of expertise.
Reviewing is usually a volunteer service, though an honorarium might be offered, depending on the subjeect area, policies and financial circumstances of the publisher.
The Research Cooperative supports the idea that peer review should be a voluntary service by researchers and experts who have a general interest in promoting the development of their research area or discipline.
An honorarium may help to find suitable reviewers, but as a rule-of-thumb, peer-review should be uninfluenced by personal or financial considerations.
For this reason, the honorarium offered to a professor in a high cost-of-living area might differ in absolute terms from that offered to a professor in a low cost-of-living area, but the value relative to the local price of water, rice, or wheat should be similarly minimal in both areas.
There is also a widespread need for academic reviewing of graduate research theses, at the masters (MA, MSc) and PhD levels (and at other levels recognised in special or technical disciplines).
For tertiary research and teaching organisations in many countries, it can be very difficult to find suitably qualified reviewers for their students. PhD theses are often long or poorly written, but may contain important information and new ideas, and are critical for the future work of their authors. Reviewers face a heavy responsibility when accepting the request to review a thesis.
Please send us any comments about your experience of thesis writing and reviewing, as a student, supervisor, or administrator.
E. G. Van Meir (2004) Opening the chamber of peer-review secrets. Nature 429: 803 (letter in response to early correspondence in Nature 427: 196 and 428: 255; 2004) on the subject of peer review and the importance of giving recognition to quality reviewers.
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Last updated by Peter J. Matthews Jan 23, 2012.