1 Expanding Horizons Before Journal Submission, Build Your Own Peer Review Board Melanie Chichester Jesse Wool Melanie Chichester, BSN, RNC-OB, CPLC, is a staff nurse in labor and delivery at Christiana Care Health Services in Newark, DE. Jesse Wool, BSN, RN, is a staff nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children s Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA. The authors report no conflicts of interest or relevant financial relationships. Address correspondence to: doi: /j.nwh , AWHONN Abstract As professionals and potential leaders in health care, nurses should be committed to advancing practice through publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Asking trusted and experienced colleagues to critique a manuscript before its submission to a journal is a useful strategy to improve the quality of the manuscript and increase its chances of publication. Keywords nurse authors peer review scholarly publishing writing
2 Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is an excellent way to demonstrate scholarship and leadership in health care. As part of the Institute of Medicine s call for nurses as full partners in health care (Institute of Medicine, 2011), dissemination of knowledge is necessary (Kazer, 2013). Nurses as professionals should be committed to advancing practice through writing in peer-reviewed journals (Sanderson, Carter, & Schuessler, 2012), and being able to communicate by writing is part of professional nursing practice (Bickes & Schim, 2010). According to Witt (2011), nurses should be disseminating knowledge, whether through original research, applying evidence to practice, problem-solving, educational endeavors, or case reports. However, many nurses hesitate because they doubt their ability to write or they believe that their knowledge is not worth sharing. As a result, few nurses attempt to submit a manuscript to a journal for publication (Dowling, Savrin, & Graham, 2013). Writing is hard work; writing well is even harder. Writing well enough to submit a manuscript for publication in a journal can seem daunting (Cazzell, 2014). Facing the gauntlet of peer review and several potential rounds of revisions is enough to intimidate even an experienced author. Even when a manuscript is returned with a decision of please revise instead of being rejected, peer reviewers comments can discourage authors, especially first-time authors, even though the primary purpose of reviewers feedback is to help improve the manuscript. What Is Peer Review? Peer review is the process of having knowledgeable experts in a given field read and constructively critique a manuscript submitted for publication. The journal s editor is responsible
3 for determining the editorial content of the journal. The editor, upon receiving a manuscript, considers the overall value, writing, and integrity of a submission. If the editor determines the manuscript to be a potentially good fit for the publication, the editor forwards it to several qualified peer reviewers, who make recommendations regarding issues such as content, clarity, quality of evidence, organization, references, and style/format. Many journals use blinded peer review, in which reviewers do not know the identity of the authors and vice versa. The reviewers task is to assist the editor in deciding if the manuscript is worthy of publication (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). Peer reviewers may also suggest editorial changes to improve the manuscript. The better the quality of the paper upon submission, the more likely the editor will be to send it on to peer review, and the more likely the peer reviewers will be to recommend it for publication. Building Your Own Peer Review Board To increase chances of publication, an option worth considering for novice and experienced authors alike is to ask trusted and experienced colleagues to read a manuscript draft and provide constructive criticism on it before it is submitted to a journal (Witt, 2011). This group is your personal team of professional interdisciplinary colleagues, who may or may not have formal reviewing experience and who will take time to critically assess a manuscript before submission. Although there are no specific criteria that guarantee a thorough review (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014), remember that peer reviewers are just that peers. One of the key people who should read your manuscript is a member of the intended audience (Bingham, 2014). Find a coworker, perhaps a clinical nurse educator, who knows the subject material and reads the intended journal. A colleague with a fresh set of eyes and can catch mistakes or suggest clarifications.
4 Be specific, because your colleague may not have experience with such a task. Provide your colleague with some guidelines regarding what you need to strengthen in your manuscript. Encourage your reviewer to provide a thorough and honest critique, because a review that consists of Looks good! is of little help (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). Ask peers if the manuscript has a logical flow and if they find it engaging (see Box 1 for other questions for reviewers to consider). Inquire if it addresses current issues in practice and if it is relevant to recent evidence they have been reading. Does one section need revisions, or was an obvious error missed? Is the purpose of the paper accomplished, or is there irrelevant information presented? Perhaps most importantly, would they recommend it to other colleagues if they found it in a journal? (Chichester, 2013). Your reviewers, just like a journal s peer reviewers, should be given a deadline and asked to return the manuscript and comments in a timely manner. Encourage your reviewers to use common tools found in Microsoft Word, such as track changes or the comments feature, when providing feedback. This method can save valuable time for your colleagues and enable you to quickly see where your manuscript needs additional attention. It may also be helpful to send a list of relevant references so that the reviewers can fact-check and perhaps find additional supporting points in relevant literature. This could be as simple as sending the articles that were included in the paper as citations. Asking a nursing professor or a clinical nurse educator who has a master s or doctoral degree and who is an expert in the specific topic or area of practice is another good option. Faculty are often experienced with the peer review process, because publication in scholarly journals may be a
5 component of their ongoing job requirements (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). The assistance of a faculty member to provide constructive feedback for either the first draft of a manuscript or for revisions is valuable for both novice and experienced writers (Dowling et al., 2013). Consider maintaining and nurturing relationships with faculty members from your undergraduate program or perhaps with faculty who train nursing students on your clinical unit. This is an opportunity for a collegial professional relationship, as well as a personal one. For a novice nurse writing for publication, experienced faculty can provide valuable feedback for a manuscript. Faculty in an undergraduate program regularly review and provide feedback for student papers and are accustomed to examining content and organizational structure (Bickes & Schim, 2010). They are also often familiar with formatting rules and can be helpful in proofreading citations and references. As experts who are well-versed in current literature, faculty may recommend references that you might have missed that would result in a stronger manuscript (Chichester, 2013). Experienced authors may suggest that you expand, limit, or alter the sections on clinical implications or recommendations for practice (Cazzell, 2014). Content specialists or subspecialists should also be part of your pre-review board. They have expertise in both the subject matter and the literature (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). For example, when writing about newborn care, engage parent education nurses, postpartum nurses, and those who make home visits; they are all content experts in different ways. If the manuscript focus is on discharge planning for a woman with complex pregnancy conditions, consider a social worker, a perinatologist, or other health care professionals. As part of the health care team, peers in a related but different field can bring valuable perspective to a manuscript. If the topic is obstetrics triage, ask a colleague in the emergency department to read through the draft. If the
6 topic concerns pregnancy complications, ask a critical care nurse to look it over. Consider asking physician colleagues with whom you work and who you respect, because they also regularly read journal articles and can make good suggestions. Use your attendance at professional meetings and conferences as another opportunity to find reviewers for your manuscript draft. Seek out colleagues who share your interests, because they can offer valuable input for the manuscript (Chichester, 2014). At a national convention such as the Association of Women s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses annual convention, there will be many experienced authors attending who might be a good match to pre-review for you (Witt, 2011). Readability is a key component of any article. Many articles may be about an interesting topic or a significant change in practice but may be so difficult to read that the reader gives up and never finishes the article. A good article can be easily read by anyone in a related or equivalent level of practice. Your reviewers can look for spelling or punctuation errors and problems with clarity and organization (Cazzell, 2014). If peers say they have never reviewed a manuscript, point out the opportunity for professional growth and education. Experience is not necessary; sometimes less experienced or younger reviewers put more thought and effort into the process (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). Unpublished peers who do peer review may gain confidence through doing the peer reviews and find that they are competent at finding errors and suggesting alternate phrases. They might especially be motivated to do so if they see their names in print, being acknowledged by the
7 author they assisted. And although a novice writer could always use some proofreading assistance, even experienced writers may benefit from another set of eyes to review a manuscript. Even if you did not draw upon colleagues expertise before submission, your review board can assist with revisions requested by the journal, because reading peer review comments can significantly lower one s self confidence (Sanderson et al., 2012). Conclusion Many manuscripts submitted to scholarly journals contain valuable information but are compromised by poor writing (Felthous & Wettstein, 2014). Understanding the purpose of peer review and making use of the abilities of colleagues to pre-review a manuscript before submission can increase the likelihood of acceptance (Cazzell, 2014). Colleagues should be chosen from diverse backgrounds to provide multiple perspectives that may enhance the quality of a manuscript. Drawing on the skills of others can help both novice and experienced authors prepare for scholarly publication. Lastly, although your pre-reviewers rarely contribute sufficiently to be listed as coauthors, remember to thank them with an acknowledgment at the end of the manuscript. Acknowledgment Thanks to Anne Broussard, DNS, CNM, CNE, FACCE, Lori Hoffman, PhD, RN, Charlotte Wool, PhD, RN, and Mary Ann Stark, PhD, RNC, for their thoughtful pre-peer review on this manuscript.
8 Box 1. Selected Criteria to Consider When Reviewing Any Manuscript Is the information timely? Does this article meet the journal s mission? Is the article easy to read and practical? Does the article add new information to current knowledge? Does the author adequately and appropriately cite current evidence? Are there any important references that should be added? Does the article address the main purpose intended by the author? Does the article address why the topic is important to nursing? Is the conclusion related to what was discussed or studied?
9 References Bickes, J. T., & Schim, S. M. (2010). Righting writing: Strategies for improving nursing student papers. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 7(1), Art. 8. doi: / x\ Bingham, R. (2014). Sharing the wisdom of nursing by writing for publication. Nursing for Women s Health, 18(6), doi: / x Cazzell, M. A. (2014). Author, review, decision, oh my! Journal of Addictions Nursing, 25(3), doi: /jan Chichester, M. (2013). Peer review A service to your profession. Nursing for Women s Health, 15(6), doi: /j x x Chichester, M. (2014). Making connections to develop a professional network. Nursing for Women's Health, 18(2), doi: / x Dowling, D. A., Savrin, C., & Graham, G. C. (2013). Writing for publication: Perspectives of graduate nursing students and doctorally prepared faculty writing for publication. Journal of Nursing Education, 52(7), doi: /
10 Felthous, A. R., & Wettstein, R. M. (2014). Peer review to ensure quality in forensic mental health publication. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 42(3), Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from Kazer, M.W. (2013). Time to publish, not perish. Nursing Education Perspective, 34(4), doi: / Sanderson, B. K., Carter, M., & Schuessler, J. B. (2012). Writing for publication: Faculty development initiative using social learning theory. Nurse Educator, 37(5), doi: /nne.0b013e318262eae9 Witt, C. L. (2011). Writing and publishing Why not you? Advances in Neonatal Care, 11(5), doi: /anc.0b013e31822b5d4f