I have recently received peer review on a systematic review after six months, with revisions requested. This is on a dynamic subject with significant literature published since. I re-screened the papers and was able to include a further 5 from those published in the past 6 months.

Is it acceptable to update the review at revision with this additional data, as it will be undergoing peer review again regardless? I think it improves the review substantially to include more data, which is more recent, but I'm not sure if this is acceptable?

Thank you in advance!

  • 1
    To add to this, this does have an effect on the results and the conclusion, and I don't feel comfortable publishing a paper while knowing the conclusion is already out of date when the latest literature is included. – zetan2021 Feb 11 at 16:01

Since it is undergoing peer review again, in general, you should be able to include the new papers. If you do this, though, highlight both the new papers and the changes to your conclusions in your author response / revision note, so that the reviewers know to pay particular attention to them and give them proper review - if you don't, they might not notice, and skip over important things because they think they already reviewed it.

It's common for reviewers to ask for new analyses or even experiments in revision, so this seems like a relatively normal kind of update in a revision cycle.

If in doubt, e-mail the managing editor. One way to do that productively is to make a specific proposal - e.g. include the new papers and highlight in the author response letter - and ask if that is an appropriate way to handle the situation for their journal.

A note that doesn't seem applicable to your specific situation, but may help others finding this answer: the exception to this is when you get what many journals call a "Minor Revision" decision, where only the editor will see the revisions - it won't go back out to reviewers. In such a situation, I would contact the managing editor and notify them of the situation. They may be able to handle the revision as a "Major Revision" and get reviews for it.

  • The journal state that it will be undergoing peer review again. What I have done is referenced the new papers in the re-submission as you describe. I was just unsure as the reviewers haven't specifically asked for the search to be updated, I just feel slightly uncomfortable submitting a paper with conclusions I already know to be slightly incorrect based on current evidence, but equally I wasn't sure if submitting unsolicited revisions is common practice. Thanks very much! – zetan2021 Feb 11 at 17:51

It is essential to update the systematic review in the revision, identifying new studies, incorporating them into the results, and reconsidering the conclusions. An overarching goal of systematic review is to present a synthesis of the existing literature as close in time to publication as possible. If there are known new studies and they have not been included in the systematic review, the review is obsolete when published.

The conclusions should be modified to reflect the new information even if the conclusions are different from those in the original submission.

It is likely that one reason for re-submitting for peer review is to assure that the systematic review has been updated and the manuscript revised as appropriate. If the systematic review has been updated and the manuscript revised appropriately to reflect any new information, the revision will likely be accepted quickly.

You will need to move fast in a rapidly changing field.

  • These were my thoughts as well, but I wasn't sure if it was acceptable to add studies when one round of peer review has already been completed – zetan2021 Feb 11 at 21:09
  • @zetan2021 It is not just acceptable, it is essential to add studies if eligible studies are identified. The peer review generally concerns itself with methods for finding, assessing, and summarizing studies and the approach to interpretation. The reviewers will expect updated results because a serious threat to the validity of a systematic review is omission of eligible studies. Updating before publication minimizes this threat. The need to make a systematic review as up-to-date as possible at publication is a challenge for many topics. – Diana Petitti Feb 11 at 21:27

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