Peer review

Peer review is a process for assessing and validating scholarly research. It’s a central element of academic publishing as it assures a work’s quality, originality and rigour. Peer review also helps maintain the integrity of academic fields by filtering out work of a poorer quality. Zed Books uses a strict peer review system for all of its scholarly output and considers peer review crucial to its mission of promoting openness, inclusion and diversity within academia.

Peer review is foundational to academic knowledge production and plays a significant role in helping academic publishers protect and maintain academic research standards. So much so, that it’s currently the only widely accepted method for validating research and has been used by academic publishers for over 350 years.

All Zed Books’ scholarly publications undergo a strict peer review. Peer review allows other academics and specialists to provide feedback, add their expertise and ensure the work meets the same high standards as Zed Books’ other publications. A peer reviewer’s opinion helps academic publishers, like Zed Books, to determine whether to publish a particular piece of research.

As an established and internationally focused academic press, we’ve used peer review for over 40 years and consider it a central part of our mission to increase diversity among Western centres of knowledge and deliver unique, inspiring works.

Why is peer review important?

As the only widely accepted way to validate research, peer review is a central part of academia and academic publishing, its value cannot be overestimated. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, on the contrary, it’s a vital and interesting aspect of the writing and broader publishing process.

Benefits of peer review

Peer reviews contribute to the academic knowledge production in important ways. Within academic book publishing especially, peer review provides a chance to further improve your research and increase its application within and beyond your field.

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    Peer review helps researchers build upon their ideas with expert advice and feedback.

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    It helps publishers recognise new, exciting ideas.

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    It improves scholarly monographs by making sure they’re interesting to read and that they keep the reader engaged.

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    Peer review helps filter out low-quality or poorly researched texts and maintain academic publishing standards.

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    It plays a role in identifying plagiarised or duplicate work, so all published academic monographs contribute and build on existing knowledge.

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    It is an opportunity to provide diverse and different opinions, contributing to a diminishing of basis or prejudice.

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    It also helps protect academic journals and publishers’ reputations, allowing them to attract the best researchers.

Reviewers also benefit from the peer review process. It helps them stay up-to-date on the latest studies, gives them access to research before it’s published and gives them a behind-the-scenes look at academic publishing, which is often crucial to their career progression.

Peer reviewers are also recognised as subject experts, which improves their CV and can introduce new networks and career opportunities.

Despite the benefits of peer review for publishers, researchers, reviewers and academia more broadly, it’s not a perfect system. There are some challenges and issues worth addressing. Keep reading to find out more about peer review, including some of its social and political considerations.

Peer review for journals and monographs

Peer review is a crucial part of academic publishing, both within academic journal and monograph publishing. Peer reviewed journals, sometimes referred to as refereed journals, have an associated editorial board of subject experts who review and assess submitted articles before they’re accepted for publication. However, not all scholarly journals are peer-reviewed.

The peer review system functions similarly when it comes to monographs. However, it also serves as a way to expand and improve a book proposal or manuscript with potential. Academic publishers typically only submit promising book proposals for peer review, which then gives reviewers the unique opportunity to contribute to the knowledge production process.

Reviewers provide feedback to improve the text, identify whether ideas are brand new or simply new to the publisher, and recommended ways to make the book more engaging and exciting.

At Zed Books, our peer reviewers help develop draft manuscripts by providing comment for our editors, improving academic rigour and testing originality across disciplines.

Types of peer review

Peer review differs across academic publishers and there is a direct link between the peer review methods employed by an academic press and their academic publisher ranking. Different academic publishers have established different methods of peer review, although it is recognised that there are three main types of peer review: open, double blind and single blind.

Zed Books ascribes to the single blind method for our academic publishing, which is the most common peer review method within HSS academic publishing.

Open peer review

With an open peer review, the researcher and reviewer know each other and work together to improve the work. Some argue that this model offers the best way to keep things professional, prevent plagiarism and leads to more open, honest feedback. However, reviewers might not be 100% honest as they don’t want to offend the researcher or impact their status within small academic circles.

Double blind peer review

Unlike an open review, a double blind review is completely anonymous. A double blind review safeguards against biased feedback as the reviewer does not know the researchers’ previous works, gender or race. In theory, this means that texts can be judged as stand-alone entities without any surrounding context.

However, it’s often still possible for reviewers to identify the researcher by their writing style or area of expertise. It is also arguable that double blind reviews prevent the reviewer from being fully informed, which can lead to lower quality reviews.

Single blind peer review

Single blind reviews involve concealing the reviewers from the researcher, but not the other way round. Single blind reviews are the most common type of peer reviews.

Peer reviewing is absolutely central to our academic publishing, and we use the single blind method to assure quality. We use single blind reviews as they allow reviewers to provide impartial feedback without worrying they’ll upset someone or tarnish their reputation by criticising a work. Reviewers can also use their knowledge about the other to assess the research within its given context and as part of a larger body of work.

However, there’s no perfect or infallible peer review system.  At Zed Books, we believe it’s  fundamental for academic publishers to understand and engage with the social and political considerations and implications of peer review.

Keep reading to find out more about the social and political considerations of peer review.

Social and political considerations

While peer review undoubtedly serves an important purpose within academic publishing, the system isn’t perfect. One of the biggest criticisms is that it’s simply a way to control quality and stop substandard work from reaching publication. This might be true for some academic presses, but peer review at Zed Books and other leading academic publishers, is a process that encourages often essential conversations and ensures texts have a significant impact on the academic community.

The peer review process does vary by discipline as different subject areas use different criteria and conventions to assess scholarly work. However, highly respected academic publishers, committed reviewers and the wider academic community are aware of subject areas’ needs and adapt their approaches accordingly.

Regardless of discipline, Zed Books believes that reviewers and academic publishers must maintain an awareness of three key considerations: diversity and inclusion within peer review, transparency and internationalism – which we’ll now explore in more depth below.

Diversity and inclusion in peer review

To truly benefit the processes of academic knowledge production, a meaningful peer review system must acknowledge diversity issues and ensure inclusion of underrepresented voices.

Promoting diversity in all of its forms within the academy, depends not only on academic institutions but also academic publishers like Zed Books.

We are committed to encouraging diversity throughout all aspects of the publishing process from initial submissions to peer reviews and ultimately, publication and distribution.

To achieve this aim, academic publishers must treat all monographs equally, regardless of the researcher’s identity. Failing to do so leads to significant issues within academic publishing and the way societies construct the very idea of ‘knowledge’. Without representing all voices, we diminish the research’s validity and the text’s potential to have a meaningful and positive impact on society.

For academic publishers, like Zed Books, it’s crucial to recruit reviewers from a broad range of backgrounds and demographics. Using a diverse pool of reviewers, allows us to bring broader perspectives to the table.

Think you could contribute to our pool of diverse peer reviewers? Register as a peer reviewer today.

Transparency in peer review

Regardless of peer review model, transparency remains a key consideration for academic publishers and reviewers. Reviewers need to have enough information about the researcher to accurately feedback on their work while avoiding any bias resulting from the author’s identity or profile.

At the same time, reviewers need to feel comfortable enough to provide honest reviews without worrying about offending the author. Often academic publishers elect to conceal the reviewer’s identity, but, of course, this then prevents a more collaborative relationship between the reviewer and author.

Achieving the right level of transparency within the peer review system is a complex challenge, and one with no correct answer.

Internationalism and the developing world

Critical academic publishers such as Zed Books play a crucial role in the movement to decolonize the Western academy. Although institutions, groups of academics, students and university workers take important steps every day, the academy remains overwhelmingly white and as the centre of Western knowledge production it continues to foster considerable social imbalances and political injustices across the world.

Sensitivity towards such matters is a crucial responsibility of academic publishing.

By incorporating multiple voices and viewpoints, academic publishers not only contribute to the development of human knowledge and understanding, but they also fight against certain inequalities and injustices.

Peer review at Zed Books

Here at Zed Books, we use a strict single blind peer review system composed of two stages. Our system ensures that at least two, often three academic peers and Zed Book’s editorial team are involved in the peer review process. Involving so many parties helps us assure the quality of all scholarly books published by Zed Books.

This process may sound disproportionate or slightly overwhelming, especially if you’re a an early career academic. However, it’s important to note that the process has been set up this way to ensure the work is as impactful, original and rigorous as possible. The editorial team at Zed Books is here to support all authors through the development and then later the promotion of their work.

Peer review at book proposal stage

Peer reviewing the book proposal

Here’s a brief step-by-step breakdown of Stage 1 of our peer review system. The first stage of the peer review is conducted after the submission of a book proposal.

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    You submit a book proposal, along with a submission form, your CV and other relevant material and include the names of potential peer reviewers in your submission form.

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    Zed Books’ editorial department decides if these reviewers are suitable. Typically, we use our own pool of reviewers and regularly approach new reviewers to ensure we source appropriate and impartial reports. However, your recommendations help further contextualise your work.

    We do not engage reviewers based at the same institute as an author or who have published or worked closely with the author in the recent past.

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    Your book proposal and sample chapters (if available) are sent to two external peer reviewers, who receive a bespoke questionnaire to complete. For proposals within a specific book series, a series editor or member of an advisory board will also review the proposal.

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    Reviewers then officially accept to the review project. Once they’ve had time to fully understand the text, they create a written report that captures their views and recommendations.

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    Zed Books’ editorial team look over the two reports and add their own considerations to decide whether to accept or reject the proposal. You’ll be informed of the decision quickly. If we accept your proposal, you’ll receive the anonymised peer review reports for consideration and potential improvement.

Peer review at full manuscript stage

Here’s a brief step-by-step breakdown of Stage 2 of our peer review system. The second stage of the peer review is conducted on delivery of a full manuscript.

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    You submit a draft manuscript to your editor, who’ll decide to accept it or recommend edits. Upon acceptance, your draft manuscript is submitted to a peer reviewer who’ll read and review the entire manuscript.

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    This reviewer will also receive a questionnaire designed specifically for reviewing manuscripts, rather than proposals.

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    When the reviewer returns their report to your editor, you’ll receive an anonymised report with recommendations on how to improve the manuscript. This may include structural edits, recommendations for further sections or requests to clarify concepts or methodologies. You’ll be asked to incorporate the recommendations into the final draft.

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    Upon submission of your final draft, you must have completed our manuscript submission checklist – a simple and clear way of confirming you’ve covered and included everything required of you as an author. A good example of a question on the checklist is: have you secured permission for any extracts or images you want to use that belong to someone else?

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    At this stage, your editor will also assess your manuscript against all the peer review reports produced during the proposal and writing stages. The editorial team at Zed Books will support you with your manuscript submission.

How to conduct a peer review

Peer reviews should primarily aim to establish a shared, collaborative discussion between established reviewers and the researcher, even if these are facilitated and anonymised by the publisher.

Formal peer review evaluations determine the merit of the researcher’s work, any areas for improvement and unconsidered points.

Reviewers need to consider the text format and discipline and adapt their peer reviewing process accordingly.

As a critical academic publisher, it’s our job to facilitate this process and ensure it provides meaningful, productive feedback. Feedback that ultimately enhances the text’s impact and contribution to existing knowledge.

Continue reading for our top tips on how to write peer reviews.

How to write a peer review for a book proposal

Reviewing a book proposal requires a very different process than reviewing an existing or already published work. Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to making the most of the proposal process.

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    First, look through the entire book proposal to gain an overall first impression and understanding. Only on a second read should you jot down any relevant notes around related works, statement of purpose or potential impact. You might ask questions like what, if any, books compete with this title? How would the proposed text differ?

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    Reread the proposal, this time trying to gather a more comprehensive and objective viewpoint. Consider its quality and how you would rate its academic rigour. Is it original? Does the structure flow? Does it engage thoroughly with the relevant material? And, are the title and subtitle appropriate? If the answer is yes, great. If not, it’s your job to highlight what’s missing or what’s unclear.

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    Next, think about the book’s potential market and whether it’s well tailored to the needs and expectations of its readers. For example, you might think about if you’d use this book in your own teaching or research. If you would, it’s likely the proposed work will make a valuable contribution to the existing body of knowledge.

Once you’ve gone through these three steps, you should have enough notes to start writing your review. While the structure of your report is up to you, we do provide a questionnaire and most reviewers begin with a summary of their overall thoughts before moving on to more detailed recommendations and areas needing improvement.

Remember, if you’re writing a review for Zed Books your comments will be anonymised before they’re sent to the author. So, you should feel safe in providing critical but constructive feedback.

How to peer review a manuscript

Conducting a peer review for a manuscript is certainly a longer process than providing a proposal peer review. Here are our top tips for writing a manuscript peer review.

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    Read through the draft abstract or blurb sent to you by the editor. This will give you a broad overview of the monograph’s primary aims, arguments and data sources. Then read the table of contents. Record any initial thoughts and feedback as a way to contextualise the manuscript.

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    First read the Introduction and Foreword or Preface (if there is one) and consider how it relates to the initial thoughts and feedback you noted when reading the blurb. Having read the introduction, does the blurb/abstract sound like the same book? Are there crucial elements missing from either the blurb/abstract or from the Introduction?

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    As you make your way through the text, examine each chapter and point out anything you find noteworthy at the end of each chapter.

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    When reading through the full manuscript consider, its quality and your overall impression. How do you rate its academic rigour? Is it original? Take notes on its structure, writing style, as well as title and subtitle.

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    Next, consider the text’s clarity. Is the argument coherent? Does it engage thoroughly with the relevant material?

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    Now it’s time to consider the manuscript in a wider context by paying attention to its potential market. Is the book well tailored to the needs and expectations of its readership? Would you use this book in your own teaching or research for example?

After you’ve completed the above steps, you should have enough notes to create a formal manuscript peer review report. Please make sure to answer all the questions in our manuscript review questionnaire.

Remember, if you’re writing a review for Zed Books your comments will be anonymised before they’re sent to the author, so you should feel safe in providing critical but constructive feedback.

How to review a Zed book for a journal

Have you recently read a Zed book or would like to review one for a journal or other publication?

Zed Books offers a free review copy service. Every title on our website has a ‘request review copy’ button next to it. Click the button and request a title (or titles) and receive a free digital copy of the book/s. It’s that simple.

Register as a peer reviewer

We’re always looking for academics to meaningfully engage with our publications. If you’re a humanities or social science academic, we’d love you to join up and help us with our mission as a critical academic publisher.

Register as a peer reviewer

Help us in our mission to make the academy and academic publishing more diverse and inclusive by registering as a Zed Books peer reviewer today. It only takes 30 seconds.