Our peer-review process starts with study investigators writing a Draft Final Research Report (DFRR) once their study analyses are complete. This report should include a complete account of all of the aims, methods, outcomes and results from the PCORI-funded study. The study investigators submit the DFRR into our secure online peer-review system, ReView, where it will be checked to ensure the submission is complete. The online system, associate editors and reviewers are provided by our peer-review contractor. The DFRR will then enter pre-review where it will be checked for clarity by an experienced editor and completeness by the project’s Science Program team. The DFRR is then sent to peer reviewers for their comments and an associate editor writes a synthesis of reviewers’ comments for the investigators.  The investigators will be asked to revise the report at least once but often twice to address the peer reviewer’s comments.  Once the associate editor is satisfied with the DFRR revisions, the report will be sent to Marina Broitman, Ph.D., PCORI Director for Peer Review, to complete final acceptance by PCORI. There will never be more than three revisions in the peer review of a final report.

An Introduction to PCORI's Peer-Review Process

This recording includes closed captioning.
Marina Broitman, Ph.D., Director of PCORI's Peer Review program, discusses the goals, components, timeline and procedures of our peer-review process to better equip PCORI funding awardees in starting and successfully completing this important process.

Peer-Review Process and Timeline

The peer-review process, from submission to acceptance, takes an average of seven to eight months. This timeline shows what happens in each phase of peer review in more detail:

Step 1: Write Your DFRR
  • Start early!
  • Meet with Author Services Team about four months before DFRR submission to discuss what to expect from Peer Review.
  • Write your DFRR using these instructions.
  • Submit DFRR and required attachments to ReView submission system.
Step 2: Pre-Review & Programmatic Check
  • DFRR is checked for formatting and submission requirements.
  • Author Services team reviews the DFRR for readability.
  • Program Officer reviews the DFRR for complete accounting of the study.
  • This step may be repeated until DFRR is approved for step 3.
Step 3: External Peer Review
  • DFRR receives statistical review.
  • DFRR receives external reviews from subject matter experts and patients or stakeholders.
  • Associate editor synthesizes comments and provides their own review of the report.
  • Respond to editor and reviewer comments within two months.
  • This step may be repeated once or twice.
Step 4: PCORI's Final Review
  • Once the associate editor and the director of peer review are satisfied with the revised DFRR, PCORI will accept the final report.
  • The DFRR will receive a maximum of three revisions in steps three and four.
Step 5: Results Disseminated
  • Lay and professional summaries posted (90 days post acceptance).
  • Summary of peer-review comments posted.
  • Accepted Final Research Report (FRR) goes to final copyediting.
  • FRR posted no more than one year after acceptance.
  • The FRR will receive a digital object identifier and PMID so that it is searchable on the Internet and specifically in PubMed.

Preparing and Submitting the DFRR

About four to six months before the DFRR is due, the principal investigator and their research team will meet with the peer-review contractor’s Author Services team to learn what to expect from the peer-review process and receive advice about the organization of the DFRR. Principal investigators can contact the Author Services team after this meeting for advice or feedback on their DFFRs.

The Author Services team will again reach out to the authors about a week before the submission due date to provide them with an invitation and link to submit their DFRR and accompanying materials into the ReView system. The Author Services team is also responsible for the first readthrough of the DFRR, known as pre-review, to help make sure that the DFRR is clear, complete and ready to send to reviewers. The authors will receive comments from the team in about two weeks and will be asked to revise and resubmit their report in two weeks. Once the authors revise the report adequately, the DFRR will move on to external peer review.

The External Peer-Review Process

When the DFRR enters external peer review, the assigned associate editor will recruit subject matter experts, methodologists, and patients or stakeholder reviewers, three to four in total, to carefully review the report.  A statistician will also review the DFRR.  The goal of external peer review is to assess the report’s scientific integrity; adherence to PCORI Methodology Standards; and relevance and usefulness to patients, clinicians and other stakeholders as described in the 2015 guidance on the peer-review process.

Scientific integrity. Scientific integrity refers to transparency, completeness and candor as applied to presentations of the scientific work. From experience with journal peer review, we know that some authors communicate only the findings that present their research in the most positive light and underplay the importance of shortcomings in the conduct of the research. Selective reporting of study results and study limitations might lead a reader to overestimate the benefits of certain interventions, or to have more confidence in the conclusions than the results warrant. Consumers of research need to know the whole story. We ask research teams to provide a full report on the research, including a full account of any cautions about interpreting the study results.

Adherence to PCORI’s Methodology Standards. The PCORI Methodology Standards is a comprehensive list developed in 2013 by the PCORI Methodology Committee and subsequently expanded to cover additional topics. These include both broad “cross-cutting” standards—those that should be followed by all patient-centered outcomes research studies—and specific standards that apply only to certain types of studies. Our peer-review process will evaluate how well the investigators met our methodology standards, and it will encourage investigators to report information needed to assess their adherence to PCORI’s standards.

Relevance and usefulness.  Scientific integrity and methodological rigor are specific goals in our authorizing law. Our Board of Governors added a third goal when it approved our peer-review process in 2015. The Board wanted to ensure that the FRRs address real problems faced by patients, caregivers, clinicians, and others. In our peer-review process, we ask patients and other stakeholders serving as reviewers whether the research findings will help people like them make informed healthcare decisions.

Posted: March 8, 2019; Updated: November 3, 2023

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