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The Peer-Review Process Explained in Just Over 1,000 Words

Posted By Bradley Cannon, Psi Chi Writer/Journal Managing Editor, Thursday, October 11, 2018
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2018


Every year, students sitting at their computers freeze in fear. Scared stiff, chills race down their spines, their mouths become dry, and their fingers pause heavily, only an inch or so above the much dreaded SUBMIT BUTTON. We all know what time it is—it’s time to surrender a manuscript to the peer-review process, for the very first time!

Hi, I’m Bradley, the Managing Editor and APA Style Reviewer for Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research. I’ve overseen countless manuscripts moving through our journal’s submission portal. And in the past 5 years, I’ve conducted more than 1,000 APA Style reviews.

Today, I’ve got good news for you: Nobody has died from our journal’s peer-review process. Not even one . . . not even around Halloween!

So, relax. Try to do your best, and what will happen, will happen. Journal editors and reviewers are regular people. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They have favorite foods and favorite actors (for example, our Editor, Dr. Brannan, mentions Denzel Washington kind of a LOT!). And yes, although editors and reviewers do hold the fate of your publication in their hands, they also have your best interest at heart.

After all, most of them started out just like you! They all went through a very similar process that resulted in their “first publication.” Be assured, it was nerve-wracking for them too! Since then, many have become involved in editing and reviewing due to their passion for training future generations of psychologists to conduct exemplary research.

What Exactly Is Peer Review?

If you’ve written your first empirical manuscript, then you surely realize that doing so is an extremely complex process. Even the most experienced of researchers benefit from multiple eyes reviewing their works before publication. Therefore, the peer-review process is simply a procedure that allows a number of people who are experts in various fields to review your work in order to ensure that it is ready for publication.

Importantly, submissions are generally referred to as “masked” or “blind,” which simply means that all personally identifying information is removed in order to protect authors’ and reviewers’ identities from each other throughout the review process. This ensures a fair and unbiased process.

The Basic Steps of Peer Review

First, an author(s) submits a manuscript for publication. Again, this manuscript should generally be masked, meaning that all identifying author and school affiliations have been retracted in order to protect author(s) confidentiality. In the case of Psi Chi Journal, authors are also required to submit an unmasked cover page and a basic cover letter (which will only be seen by the Editor and Associate Editor). Undergraduate authors are also expected to submit a sponsor statement that is hand-signed by a faculty mentor. Complete submission guidelines for Psi Chi Journal are available online.

Second, the submitted manuscript is sent to the editor who decides whether to reject the manuscript or assign it to an appropriate associate editor. Our journal currently has one editor and five associate editors. The purpose in having associate editors is to lighten the load for the primary editor because no one person could single-handedly manage the number of submission received by our journal.

Third, the assigned associate editor then selects reviewers who have appropriate areas of expertise. Psi Chi Journal currently has 240+ doctoral-level reviewers, with primary subject areas ranging from clinical to social to experimental and beyond. The number of reviewers that most journals assign to each manuscript varies, but it is generally around two reviewers per manuscript. However, many of our Psi Chi Journal authors are students. So, in an attempt to provide our authors with the extra support that they need, we have opted to assign three reviewers per manuscript, in addition to the special APA Style review, conducted by yours truly!

Fourth, the reviewers each receive an email invitation to review. They either agree to review the manuscript (fingers crossed!) or they decline in the event that they are too busy or do not feel that they have adequate experience in the article’s specific subject area. If a reviewer declines to review, it is the associate editor’s responsibility to contact and secure a different reviewer until a satisfactory number of reviewers have been acquired for the manuscript. As you can imagine, it occasionally takes a little extra time to assign all reviewers to a manuscript—patience is a big part of the peer-review process!

Fifth, the reviewers submit their feedback to the associate editor. For Psi Chi Journal, reviewers are given four weeks from the date that they agree to review. Reviewers generally complete their assignments on time (because they are awesome and we adore them!). However, any reviewers who miss their deadlines are contacted by the associate editor with polite reminders as appropriate.

Sixth, the associate editor examines the feedback and eliminates any repetitive or contradictory advice given by the reviewers. Reviewers sometimes write comments that should remain confidential from the authors, so the associate editor reviews these private comments too. If necessary, the associate editor may contact a reviewer for clarification. And of course, associate editors include their own personal feedback too.

Seventh, the associate editor drafts a recommendation letter, which is sent to the primary editor for review and approval. The associate editor might also provide confidential comments to the editor, just like some of the reviewers might have written for the associate editor.

Eighth, the editor reviews and recommendation and sends an official decision letter to the author. If the manuscript is rejected, then the peer-review process is sadly at an end. Or, if the manuscript receives a Major Revisions or Conditional Acceptance decision, then the author is given one month to complete the necessary revisions and resubmit a revised manuscript. This basically resets the peer-review process at Step 1, again and again, until the Editor determines that the manuscript should be ultimately Accepted or Rejected.

Whatever decision letter you receive, we at Psi Chi Journal sincerely hope that the feedback provided by the reviewers and associate editor will help you to become a capable and well-rounded researcher. It is also our hope that the feedback will help you to conduct future research projects that you can submit to our journal.

So, there you have it—the peer-review process in just 1,000 words! (That wasn’t so scary, now was it?)

Thinking about submitting your research for publication? I encourage you to consider Psi Chi Journal. Our rigorous, yet supportive and educational, peer-review process is designed to support the growth of researchers at all points in their research careers. Undergraduate, graduate, and faculty submissions are welcome.

As Denzel Washington says, “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference!” Find out if a career in research is right for you. Psi Chi Journal can help. Visit

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