AAS Open Research

Trust is built on openness and transparency

In our second blog post for Peer Review Week, the Peer Review Team talk about how we build trust between our authors, reviewers and the wider research community, discussing our author-led process, which means no editorial bias, and going through the revision and response process here at AAS Open Research.

Standing out from the crowd

The traditional approach to peer-review has most often taken two forms: single-blind peer-review (where authors are unaware the identity of their reviewers), or double-blind peer-review (where neither the authors or reviewers are aware of each other’s identities). Also, in traditional closed pre-publication peer-review models, the peer-review process takes place before the article has been made available to the public (and where the peer-review reports are only visible to the authors and editors), which prevents other interested readers in the research community from contributing to the final version of the article.

At AAS Open Research, we have an open post-publication peer-review model, where the peer-review process takes place after an article has already been published, and all peer-review reports provided by our reviewers are published online alongside the article so that they are fully visible to the authors and other readers of the article (along with the reviewer’s full name and affiliation details). This transparency in itself helps to promote a professional and constructive peer-review process, and encourages other interested readers to contribute to the discussion between the authors and reviewers, for example by leaving a comment to give their own opinion on the article and/or the peer-review reports themselves.

Built on the foundations of trust

This whole process involves a lot of trust between us in editorial and the reviewers, especially as there is no editorial bias. The reviewers are solely responsible, via their approval status, in determining whether an article passes peer review, and therefore whether it is indexed, and their report can be read by authors, readers and other reviewers.

As all the reports are published openly, authors can trust that they are being given all the feedback on their article. Additionally, as the affiliations of the reviewers are displayed, authors can rest assured that experts are reviewing their articles. This also allows readers to trust and verify for themselves that the article has been thoroughly peer reviewed.

In order to help the reviewers with their report we have some reviewer guidelines to explain our process and what we are expecting within a report. This may also provide some clarity to reviewers who have previously not had their reports published as part of an open process. We encourage reviewers to be thorough and to critically evaluate the article. We trust that the reviewers will be constructive, help the authors improve their article where necessary and follow the COPE guidelines when reviewing. This in turn builds communication lines between authors and reviewers to have an open discussion about the article.

Let’s talk! The revision and response process

Once at least two peer-review reports have been published for an article, our authors are encouraged to revise their articles according to the suggestions made by the reviewers, taking into account their feedback. Furthermore, although reader comments do not affect the overall approval status of an article, authors are able to revise their articles to incorporate feedback from the comments provided by other readers, and can also respond to these comments.

All revised articles contain a section that describes the overall changes made to the article, but in addition to this, we strongly encourage our authors to write a separate, direct point-by-point response to each individual peer-review report, to describe how each suggestion has been addressed in the revised article, and if a particular suggestion wasn’t addressed, the reasons for this. All author responses to a peer-review report are also fully visible online to other reviewers and readers of the article.

The benefit of co-operation

In addition to helping the reviewer better understand how their report was taken into account (which we feel greatly facilitates the reviewer’s ability to re-review the article), the point-by-point response expressly shows that the review was considered carefully during the revision process, helping to build a greater sense of co-operation and trust between the authors and reviewer as they work to improve an article as much as possible.

The point-by-point response also gives authors an opportunity to give their take on a reviewer’s peer-review report – if an author feels that a suggestion made by a reviewer wasn’t necessary to address, or was perhaps not possible to address, this is their chance to explain why. By doing this, the authors can put the reviewer’s comment into the context of the wider subject area, thus helping to broaden the knowledge of other readers on the subject matter, and perhaps also drawing the reviewer’s (and other readers’) attention to something that they might not have been aware of. This brings in more of the authors’ expert knowledge of the subject area into the discussion, thus benefiting the wider research community.

Moreover, in some cases a reviewer may require further clarification from the authors about a certain aspect of an article. Once a peer-review report is published, if the reviewer has included a query for the authors, we encourage our authors to answer this query by providing a direct response to the report. This also helps to build the sense of co-operation and trust between the reviewer and author.

Overall, AAS Open Research’s open post-publication approach to revisions and responses provides plenty of opportunities for authors, reviewers and readers to work together to strengthen articles, thus developing trust between each other and advancing the overall knowledge of a subject area.