expert peer reviewA peer review process, in one form or another, has long been the de facto standard for academic publishing. In 2013, ALiEM was the first FOAM resource to initiate an attributed peer review process for all submitted content–effectively bringing a traditional standard to a new frontier of medical education.1 Since our expert peer review (EPR) program inception, reviewers have published critical appraisals alongside 114 ALiEM posts to date.

Finding A Peer Review System

The merits and flaws of various modes of peer review are a topic of fierce, contemporary debate in academia. Most journals today utilize a system of blind peer review, where viewers and authors remain anonymous and the entire review process occurs behind the scenes. Reviewer commentary is either never published or it is buried within an addendum within a journal’s database.

At ALiEM, we believe peer review is not just a standard for publication, but an essential pedagogical tool. We believe peer review fundamentally represents a conversation between authors, reviewers, and readers, that is a reservoir for dialectical learning. In order to spark that conversation, ALiEM has embraced a review process that attributes the identities of reviewers and publishes reviewer comments on the same page as each post. But what if this conversation could be taken one step further, to reinforce the critical appraisal skills we hope to engender while keeping readers engaged in the content at hand?

Introducing In-line Review

In-line is ALiEM’s new model for expert peer review. Hovering over this content will display in-line commentary. Reviewers can place any number of attributable comments throughout the body of a post, enabling readers to embed critical thinking within their normal reading habits.

In-line commentary is meant to be brief, yet thoughtful. Each in-line comment is also attributed to a longer-form analysis which resides below, at the end of the post, in a summative review. This summary enables reviewers to expand on the points already contained within in-line comments, and it ensures that reviews retain the academic quality you have come to expect from ALiEM.

From a design perspective, In-line was built to mimic how we already edit and revise our own academic work. Readers and reviewers alike will find this system intuitive, if not familiar, from prior experience with applications like Microsoft Word or Pages. Innovations in design like In-line are only possible with  electronic mediums of publication, and we believe this is a first step down a long road in re-imagining the entire concept of peer review.

A New, New Submissions Process

To streamline our submission and review workflow, we are also launching a revised New Submission system. Using this process, we aim to cut down the time it takes from submission to publication by incorporating tools that most people utilize everyday.  It also allows authors to focus on doing what they enjoy doing most: writing.

Innovation by Iteration

By now, I hope you have a sense of the utility and potential of In-line. We will begin immediately piloting this program, and we are eager to know what you think about this change in our EPR process. Our goal is to continue developing a peer review model that captures the essence of scientific inquiry, emboldens the spirit of academic discourse, and empowers our readers to make the best decisions for their patients. We are excited to continue this journey with you.

For further information, please watch our instructional video which will be distributed to reviewers to explain this new commentary process:

Thoma B, Chan T, Desouza N, Lin M. Implementing peer review at an emergency medicine blog: bridging the gap between educators and clinical experts. CJEM. 2015;17(2):188-191. [PubMed]
Scott Kobner
Medical Student
New York University School of Medicine
2014-15 ALiEM-EMRA Social Media and Digital Scholarship Fellow