A newly relaunched open access, peer reviewed journal operates a double blind peer-review system. At all stages of the review, until the decision to accept has been taken, neither the author nor the reviewer can identify the other. The journal always uses at least two reviewers, who are also unaware of the identity of each other.
After the author has been told that the article is accepted, it may require some final proofreading (eg, footnote cross references, typos, etc). It is easier to do final checks on copies that include the author details. No further decisions as to whether to publish are taken at this stage. However, the reviewers are given the choice as to whether to review a re-submission at any stage, including after acceptance. Also, some individuals who had acted as reviewers at earlier stages, agree to help with these final checks, and are no longer acting as reviewers, but as copyeditors.
Questions for the Forum
- Does having the author details on the final copies, that may be seen by the reviewers, breach the double blind system?
- Is it acceptable practice for reviewers to help with final checks (eg, grammar, accuracy of footnotes, etc) after acceptance (in effect, acting as copyeditors)?
The Forum noted it is unusual for reviewers to be involved in the handling of papers after the peer review process. Does having the author details on the final copies, that may be seen by the reviewers, breach the double blind system? The Forum thought that it was an acceptable breach of the double blind system because the paper has been accepted at that point.
The Forum recommended that the journal should clearly state their policies on their website, describe their processes and explain why the double blind review system is not possible at the final stages. For small journals with a small publishing budget, using reviewers to help with the final checks is unusual but is an acceptable practice as long as the journal is transparent about its policies and procedures.
If the reviewers are editing files at the final checks, and the authors are sent the edited files, the reviewers could potentially be revealed to the authors if they have left their identity in the file properties. Although the reviewers will know who the authors are as soon as the paper is published, the authors do not know who the reviewers are in the double blind review process so the journal should ensure that this is maintained with their current process.
In summary, the double blind peer review is in place at the journal during the peer review process, and breaching the review process when the authors become visible to the reviewers is acceptable because it is after acceptance of the manuscript. Reviewers acting as copyeditors is an unusual but acceptable practice. However, the journal should be transparent about their processes and the breach of the double blind process, and ensure their internal processes are secure so that the identities of the reviewers are not revealed to the authors.
The editorial board found the Forum’s advice very helpful and the journal is making changes to the information on their website as a result of the Forum’s suggestions.