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Scoring Big: The Playbook for Excelling in AOSSM Peer Review

    • Journals & Publishing

Staying on top of research and innovation is paramount in the dynamic world of sports medicine. A proficient reviewer plays a crucial role in upholding the integrity and advancement of orthopaedics, in collaboration with editors and authors. A recent Nightcap (a free webinar series from the Early Career Engagement Committee) took a deep dive into peer review with prestigious editors and AOSSM Members Stephen Brockmeier, MD; Donald Fithian, MD; and David Landy, MD, PhD.

You might be wondering: What does it take to be a good reviewer? Here is a play-by-play recap of the editors’ responses.

First and foremost, it’s important for aspiring reviewers to seize opportunities to get involved early on in their careers, particularly during residency and fellowship training. In fact, it was during residency that Dr. Brockmeier began reviewing articles and during fellowship training where he was able to give feedback with supervision.

“Those who are finishing up their residency and/or fellowship training or are within the first 10 years of practice generally have the most bandwidth to provide a fair and thoughtful review,” Dr. Brockmeier explains. “Having an eager and genuine interest in the entire process will also serve as a catalyst for increasing your involvement.”

Dr. Fithian attests that one of the greatest ways to gain experience is by volunteering to help faculty with a paper review.

“[Fellowship] faculty receive papers to review all the time,” he adds. “The fellow is not alone in the review process, either. Oftentimes faculty will give feedback, provide edits, and make sure it’s an all-around high-quality review.”

For those who are uncertain about where to start and are seeking guidance, a mentorship program is available. Created by the AJSM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, the program takes volunteers from the AJSM Editorial Board who act as mentors and assigns the volunteers to a mentee to work with for two to five reviews. Interested mentees can reach out to Donna Tilton at [email protected] for more information.

Communication skills are equally paramount for providing constructive feedback to authors. A good reviewer articulates their critiques and suggestions in a clear and respectful manner. For an article that does or does not merit publishing, highlighting three to four key components for improvement makes for a more robust review compared to a review that solely focuses on granular issues such as typos. Offering these specific recommendations ultimately helps authors address deficiencies and enhance the quality of their work.

“The reviewer plays an integral role in helping the authors improve their paper,” Dr. Fithian remarks. “The introduction, purpose, and overall layout should all be clear, and if it’s not, the reviewer is already helping to improve the paper substantially.”

Another key aspect for reviewers to keep in mind is to not be intimidated by a potential review, particularly when it comes to statistics. Oftentimes a reviewer will be faced with an article that is heavy on statistics and may not necessarily have the background to provide an effective critique. It’s important to note that there are other aspects of the paper the reviewer can comment on besides the statistical analysis, and it’s acceptable to simply state that further review of the statistical analysis is needed.

“If you do not understand a statistical term or something to that effect, that doesn’t mean you can’t review the article,” Dr. Landy explains. “The statistics are only relevant if the exposures are important and well measured, and if the outcome is important and well measured.”

Commitment and reliability are key traits of a proficient reviewer. Meeting deadlines and fulfilling review assignments in a timely manner demonstrates dedication to the peer-review process and supports the efficient dissemination of research findings.

“As an editor, being on time with your review is essential,” Dr. Brockmeier notes. “If you commit to doing a review, one of the key things we look for in a reviewer is someone who is going to complete the review.”

As for the future of publishing, each editor had various opinions on what the entire process could look like 10, even 20, years from now. For starters, the recent rise of artificial intelligence is evident, and only time will reveal its impact.

Despite the rise of preprint servers, the editors believe peer review will remain invaluable for years to come. As long as the process’s timeline is kept efficient, peer review mitigates the risks of publishing without prior review. Dr. Fithian expounds, “Personally, I believe that there are very few ideas that can't be improved with a little editing.”

Additionally, the increase in new technology brings different methods of presenting research findings such as a video format, as in the Society’s latest peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Video Journal of Sports Medicine, for which Dr. Brockmeier serves as editor-in-chief.

“It’s exciting to think that we’re just barely scratching the surface of new avenues for authors to present their research findings,” Dr. Brockmeier notes. “It’s going to be very interesting to reflect back 20 years from now and what we’re doing in 2024 compared to 2044.”

Ready to apply your playbook and become a journal reviewer? For a general overview of the review process, see Reviewing a Paper: An Organized Approach by Bruce Reider, MD, editor-in-chief for AJSM and OJSM.

Dr. Stephen Brockmeier is a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Virginia (UVA) and team physician for UVA’s athletics department. He serves as the editor-in-chief of the Video Journal of Sports Medicine (VJSM), which he was appointed to launch in 2021 by the AOSSM Medical Publishing Board.

Dr. Donald Fithian is a longtime clinician, educator, editor, and clinical scientist. He currently serves as the associate editor for the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (OJSM), AOSSM’s online, open-access journal. He also serves as a member of the American Journal of Sports Medicine (AJSM) Editorial Board, taking the helm of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force.

Dr. David Landy is a hip and knee replacement specialist at OrthoVirginia and serves as associate editor for AJSM, focusing on clinical trials and statistics. His most recent presentations at the AOSSM Medical Publishing Group Workshop included topics on machine learning.

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