Scientific conferences and symposiums provide an invaluable platform for researchers to share their findings and exchange ideas with others in their field. An essential component of this type of conference is the presentation of research papers (which are typically reviewed by experts in the field before being accepted to the academic conference programming).
If you're presenting at (or attending) a scientific conference, knowing it’s peer-reviewed should be a big factor in your decision to participate. And, if you’re an organizer, designing a high-quality, conference peer-review process is an important step that will impact the success and reach of your event.
So, how do you know if a conference is peer-reviewed? And what are some of the many reasons why scientific conference papers should be peer-reviewed?
What is a peer-reviewed conference?
A research conference is “peer-reviewed” when all submissions are evaluated and scrutinized by a panel of experts in the same field. These experts, also known as “peers”, evaluate the quality and relevance of the submitted papers based on predetermined criteria (i.e. originality, methodology, contribution to the field, etc.).
There are three main types of peer review processes – single-blind, double-blind, and open peer reviews. With single-blind reviews, the researchers are not aware of the identity of the person reviewing their work, but the reviewers know the identity of the authors. Double-blind reviews mean that the authors and reviewers are both unaware of the others’ identity. In open peer reviews, all parties are identified to one another.
Once the peer-review process is complete, the conference organizers (often the program committee specifically) select the papers that have met the required standards for presentation at the conference. The selected papers are then presented during the conference in the form of oral or poster presentations.
Why should conference papers be peer-reviewed?
Just like with journal papers and peer-reviewed publications, a good conference peer-review process is essential to ensure that the research presented at any scientific conference meets a high standard and is relevant to the event theme. Filtering all submissions through an expert-led evaluation process also helps to ensure the credibility and validity of the research presented at a conference. Research conferences hosted by reputable scientific organizations will nearly always be peer-reviewed and most organizations will provide detailed descriptions of their peer-review process (like this example by IEEE). So, why is peer-reviewing papers the gold standard for scientific conference programming?
1. Acting as a quality control measure
Peer reviewing conference publications ensures that conference papers meet high standards of quality. Conference reviewers are typically experts in the same field as the authors and are qualified to assess the scientific merit of the research presented. This review process helps to identify errors, citation attribution, inconsistencies, and weaknesses in the research early on, allowing authors to address these issues before their papers are presented at the conference.
2. Assessing a submission’s relevance to the conference theme
Scientific conferences typically have a specific theme or topic, and the conference presentation papers presented should be relevant to that particular field or theme. Peer review ensures that the full papers accepted for presentation are on-topic and meet the conference's objectives. This helps to maintain the conference's focus and ensure that attendees get the most out of the experience.
3. Providing constructive feedback to accepted authors
The peer review process is a great way to provide submitting authors with constructive feedback that can help them improve their research. With the help of feedback forms or effective peer-review software, reviewers can provide detailed feedback on the research methodology, data analysis, and conclusions. This feedback can help authors to identify areas where they need to improve and make their research more robust. Organizers benefit from increased presentation/content quality for their conference. And, researchers benefit from getting expert eyes giving feedback on their research at an early stage. It’s a win-win.
4. Increasing the credibility of research conference content
As you’d expect, peer-reviewed conference papers are considered more credible than those that have not been peer-reviewed. In recent years, fake or predatory conferences have become a big concern for researchers and prospective attendees. Providing proof of a well-managed peer review process is like a stamp of approval from experts in the field, indicating that the research presented is of high quality and has been thoroughly screened. This assurance of credibility allows attendees to focus on absorbing the research findings (as opposed to spending half their time questioning the relevance and validity of the science behind the content).
5. Advancing the Field of Research & Expanding Reach
Incorporating regular peer-review into the conference circuit contributes to the advancement of the field. It helps spread new knowledge and ideas and it gives potential research collaborators another avenue to establish connections. The papers presented at conferences often include original research that has not been published elsewhere. So, sharing relevant research with other experts in the field at an early-stage can help to expand the reach of the key findings (and inspire other adjacent avenues of research). It also allows the lead researcher to incorporate varied insights and perspectives that will help them improve their future research design. In some fields, conferences even tend to play a larger role than journal publications or academic journals (e.g., computer science).
What are peer-reviewed conference proceedings?
Peer-reviewed conference proceedings are a collection of all the papers that were presented and accepted at a peer-reviewed conference. These proceedings are usually published in a book, peer-reviewed journal articles, or online program and provide a permanent record of the conference content.
The primary difference is this: A peer-reviewed conference focuses on the evaluation of individual papers before they are accepted for presentation, while peer-reviewed conference proceedings represent the accepted and published versions of those papers. In other words, conference proceedings are the final output of a peer-reviewed conference.
Conclusion: How will peer-review impact the future of research conferences?
It’s clear that peer review is an essential part of a high-quality scientific conference. It helps organizers with quality control, gives presenters actionable advice to improve their work, and advances the conference’s field of research overall (which benefits everyone involved in the scientific community).
While it’s possible to manually complete all the tasks required for an effective peer-review process, there’s heaps of work involved to get it right. It’s extremely easy for reviewers or program committees to get overwhelmed or stuck in analysis paralysis when the time comes to decide on accepted papers. So, as peer-reviewed conferences become more common, organizers are exploring how abstract management software can streamline the process for them. This is just one way in which technology is influencing the evolution of the conference peer-review process. Who knows what other changes we’ll see ten years down the line!