Editorial Peer Review: Its strengths and weaknesses

by Ann C Weller (Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2001): 342pp, UK price about £26 (hbk), ISBN 978 1 5738 7100 6.

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Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals: Guidelines for good practice

by Irene Hames (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007): 312pp, £21.50 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 4051 3159 9.

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Reviewed by Margaret Corbett

Both of these books are about peer review in scientific publishing, but otherwise they could hardly be more different.

Stodgy style

Librarian Ann Weller's book is a comprehensive review of all relevant papers about peer review published in English during the 50 years ending in 2000 (which is represented by a single reference). In this well-presented hardback, many of the findings from groups of published articles are given in tables, some of them very large. The text is padded with names as almost all first authors are mentioned, and the name-year (Harvard) system is used for citations. This makes for a very stodgy style that is no pleasure to read, and leaves little room for opinion, discussion or conclusions.

Practical and engaging

Irene Hames' book, in contrast, reflects the author's career in journals. She was involved with the setting up and launch of The Plant Journal some 16 years ago and has been its managing editor for some time.

She writes engagingly and, from the viewpoint of her extensive experience, has produced a practical handbook that describes ways of coping with the many day-to-day problems that must be faced by the editor and staff of every scientific journal, as well as suggestions for dealing with less common situations . Carefully chosen references, using the unobtrusive citation-sequence (Vancouver) style, are placed at the ends of chapters.

Arrangement and presentation

Nine of Hames' chapters cover: the peer review process; record keeping, checking completeness and keeping track of manuscripts; available software in general; information for authors; identifying, reminding and keeping reviewers; editorial decisions; moving to online submission and review; and the responsibilities of all the people involved in peer review.

Many of these topics were earlier identified by Stephen Lock in his 1985 book A Difficult Balance: Editorial peer review in medicine (London: Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust), but their arrangement, as well as the direct presentation of advice, are particularly well done in Hames's book. The book concludes with a chapter about misconduct in research and publishing, and four useful appendices.

Up to date

The inclusion of online working and the mention of new models of peer review brings this book right up to date, and it should stay current for some time. The design is good, with chapter titles as running heads and a well-chosen typeface with good contrast so that the text is easy to read.

Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals offers a great deal of help for journal editors and their colleagues. I strongly recommend it to everybody with an interest in the subject.

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