Reviewer Guidelines and Terms
The following is a guideline for reviewers. Please use the following guidelines in conjunction with the feedback template provided.
By Dr James Prescott, Unitec Institute of Technology
Guidelines for reviewing manuscripts
Here are nine things you should consider as you examine the manuscript and write your review
1 – General overview: Each manuscript will have an intellectual goal. It is important that this intellectual goal is clearly communicated to the reader. After reading the manuscript for the first time, how would you summarize the intellectual message to another person? In order to determine if the manuscript has clearly conveyed its intellectual goal to the reader, you may like to consider the following questions.
- What did the authors/researchers seek to find out in the first place?
- What was the rationale for this study and who is it aimed at benefiting?
- How did the authors/researchers go about answering their research question (methodology and research design)?
- What are the findings from this research study?
- How does this study contribute to the academic literature and body of knowledge?
The abstract to the manuscript should clearly identify the answers to the above questions although the details will be found in the body of the manuscript.
2 – Structure of the Paper: Although the abstract will provide summary answers to the above questions, the manuscript should ideally be structured in such a way as clearly provide additional detailed discussions. As per of the review you may like to comment on the structure of the manuscript in terms of providing being able to answer the above questions easily and quickly and also the logical flow of the discussions from question through to the conclusion.
3 – Research Question and rationale: Research papers should all have a clear research question together with a rationale of the importance and or relevance of the study. You will need to determine if the research question has been clearly stated and specifically what the author(s) aimed to find out. The purpose of the rationale is to state the relevance of the study and the contribution that it makes to the research environment. It is also important to determine who will most benefit from this study and how the findings may be used.
4 – Literature Review: You have been invited to review the manuscript in part because of your familiarity and expertise in this area. The manuscript will seek to contribute to the existing body of knowledge within the relevant field of inquiry. It is therefore important that the study provides a comprehensive review of the existing literature and specifically identifies the knowledge gap that this study seeks to fill.
As a reviewers you will need to identify any obvious gaps in the literature and to comment on the claim by the authors that this study contributes to the body of knowledge in this area.
Referencing is an important part of any academic paper. Where ever possible, authors need to support any statements they have made by citing a relevant reference. In the discussion section, claims, conclusion or findings that the author make, need not be supported by cited references but by the data presented.
In your comments in this section you may also like to consider the following;
- To what extent has theory been incorporated into the discussions?
- Are the arguments provided by the author(s) convincing?
- To what extent have the authors incorporated the ideas or findings of those authors cited in the reference section?
- To what extent have the author(s) used the existing literature to frame the research question or hypothesis?
5 – Method and Methodology: The methods and methodology section aims to provide a road map of how the study was carried out and the techniques and approaches used in the data collection through to the data analysis and presentation. Text book definitions and approaches to research methods and methodology are often framed from an idealistic perspective. In reality however the application of these tools and approaches is often associated with some limitations. The best that we can achieve is to employ research methods and methodologies that are suited to the circumstances surrounding the study in question. Some studies will justify the use of particular tools and methodologies based on previous studies. Others will argue their appropriateness based on theoretical grounds. Either way the paper should provide a convincing case for the choice of research methods and methodologies for this particular research study.
In your comments on this section, you may like to consider the following;
- Do the authors provide a clear outline of their research strategy and research design?
- Have the authors provided a clear rationale for their research strategy and design?
- How suitable is this research strategy for the current study?
- Is the data set aligned with the research question?
- Does this research strategy and design align with providing an answer to the research question?
- To what extent have the authors acknowledged the weaknesses in their research design?
6 – Research Findings and Results: The research findings and results are at the heart of the study’s contribution to the body of knowledge. It will be important to determine if the findings that have been presented are clear and intuitively easy to follow. They should also align with providing evidence to answer the research question or confirm or negate the hypothesis. Data is often presented in tables or charts. These should be relevant and clearly presented. Where appropriate, a brief explanation of the significance of the data should also be pointed out. Diagrams, charts and tables should be used sparingly and only include those that contribute to telling the story. It is important to recognize the limitations of the dataset presented and used. The findings and conclusions reached by the author(s) should be restricted to that supported by the dataset.
7 – Discussion Section: In the discussion section, the author(s) will provide their interpretive analysis of the dataset, results and statistical calculations. The authors need to be clear in this section about the significance of their findings and how this contributes to the body of knowledge. They may also like to take the opportunity to differentiate their study from others and how their conclusions are positions in the spectrum of other studies in the field.
In your comments within this section you may like to consider the following questions;
- To what extent have the authors provided a concise summary of their findings?
- To what extent do the author’s conclusions align with the data presented?
- To what extent have the authors incorporated their findings into the broader debate in this area and the previous literature?
- To what extent have they incorporated theory into their discussions and explanations?
- To what extent have they interpreting the data, provided explanations and contributed to understanding in this area?
- To what extend have the authors acknowledges and addressed the limitations of their study?
8 – Writing Style: It is important in this section to remember that every author(s) has a particular writing style and that this is not an opportunity for the reviewer to impose their own writing style. Personal style aside, the most beautiful academic writing is that which is easy to read and follow. Long and complex sentences containing more than one idea is often difficult to follow. Breaking these sentences down to a series of shorter concise sentences within a paragraph is often easier to follow. Academic writing is often characterized with paragraphs that begin with a topic statement or sentence. This is followed by a series of sentences that provide evidence of the opening statement. The last sentence in the paragraph closes the argument or discussion. Paragraphs that contain more than one argument are often hard to follow.
Although many academic papers will contain emotive words deliberately, this needs to be moderated against the case for the paper being objective, factual and evidence based.
In your comments in this section you may like to consider the following;
- How clear is the writing and are the arguments presented easy to follow?
- How concise is the writing? Does the author use too many emotive words that are unsubstantiated?
- Is the writing grammatically correct? Although many reviewers will tend to correct for punctuation, spelling and grammar, these will normally be the responsibility of the copy editor further down the line, reviewers should focus on the clear flow of the arguments and discussions. If the poor grammar is responsible for the unclear then the reviewer should simply state that the argument, paragraph or sentence is unclear and suggest that the author reword the sentence.
The golden rule of scholarship today is that the paper clearly communicates the ideas developed in the study to the reader.
9 – Feedback to Editor: Having completed your comments for the above eight sections, it will be necessary to clear provide your recommendations to the editor. Your conclusion may take on one of three possible outcomes.
- Accept the paper for publication. (reviewers should make this recommendation if they feel that the paper satisfies all of the criteria stated in sections 1 to 8 and that there are no substantial revisions to be made) If there are correction to be made by the copy editor you may still recommend an acceptance but point out that there are grammatical and other syntax corrections to be made).
- Accept with conditions. (Reviewers may recommend this option if they feel that the paper is publishable but requires some amendments to the satisfaction of the editor. The reviewer should point out the specific amendments required)
- Reject and Resubmit (Reviewers may recommend this option if they feel that while the manuscript in its current form significantly falls short of being publishable, contains merit and may potentially be publishable in the future if the author invests further time in its development. The reviewer may provide comment as to how the paper may be further developed)
- Reject for this journal. (Reviewers may recommend a reject for this journal on the basis that the manuscript does not satisfy the criteria outlined in sections 1 to 8 above. This outcome is usual if the paper is significantly short of meeting the criteria for publication and does not make a contribution to the body of knowledge in this area)
Your evaluation to the editor: Should this paper be (a) rejected for this journal? (b) or does it show sufficient promise for revision, in ways that you have clearly demonstrated in your review, to encourage the authors to invest weeks and months in revision for this journal?
Your bottom-line advice to the editor is crucial. Make a decision; state it clearly (in your confidential remarks to the editor on the page provided).
Some reasons to reject a manuscript: (a) The research questions have already been addressed in prior studies; (b) the data have been collected in such a way as to preclude useful investigation; (c) the manuscript is not ready for publication–incomplete, improper format, or error-ridden.
Most rejected articles do find a home in other journals. Don’t tease authors with hopes for publication in this Journal if you feel it is not likely.
Good Reviews and Bad Reviews
A good review is supportive, constructive, thoughtful, and fair. It identifies both strengths and weaknesses, and offers concrete suggestions for improvements. It acknowledges the reviewer’s biases where appropriate, and justifies the reviewer’s conclusions.
A bad review is superficial, nasty, petty, self-serving, or arrogant. It indulges the reviewer’s biases with no justification. It focuses exclusively on weaknesses and offers no specific suggestions for improvement.
Responsibilities and Rights of Peer Reviewers
Responsibilities, Confidentiality and Rights of Peer Reviewers
- Reviewers are obliged to treat the author and the manuscript with respect. When reviewers have a bias against the researchers or the research, they must recuse themselves. When they have a conflict of interest with the research or its sponsors, they must make it known to the editors or recuse themselves.
- Reviewers should provide an honest and constructive assessment of the value of the manuscript. An appropriate assessment includes an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the study; suggestions on how to make the manuscript more complete, relevant, and readable; and specific questions for the authors to address to make any revision of the manuscript acceptable and useful to the intended audience. Whenever possible, complete citations should be provided for important work that has been omitted.
- Reviewers must maintain confidentiality about the manuscripts they review. Using the data from such manuscripts before they are published is not permitted and inappropriate. Sharing the data with colleagues is equally inappropriate, as is reproducing the manuscript for any purpose other than the carrying out of the review process. If reviewers wish to use information from a manuscript that has been accepted for publication, they should ask the Editor to contact the author(s) for permission.
- Reviewers must not use the peer-review process as a means to further their own research aims, specifically by requiring authors to respond to questions that are interesting to the reviewers but that the study was not designed to answer or by suggesting that the editor reject work that contradicts or is in conflict with their own. Reviewers must also not use the peer-review process or recommend acceptance simply to further the careers of their students or colleagues.
- Reviewers who receive invitations to review manuscripts with which they have a clear conflict of interest should decline the invitation and reveal the specific conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest can be defined as sets of conditions (such as academic competition or particular philosophic values and beliefs) that could result in a biased or unfair evaluation of the manuscript. The Editor may deliberately choose a reviewer with a known stance on a particular issue in order to obtain a balanced review of the manuscript. Reviewers who have any questions in this regard should consult with the Editor.
- Reviewers who have reviewed a manuscript before for another journal should inform the Editor before they complete the review. The Editor can then decide whether a re-review is appropriate.
- Unless appropriate, reviewers should resist the temptation to use their reviews as an opportunity to suggest that their own published work be referenced.
- Reviewers who receive a request to review a manuscript and cannot do so within the specified time period should decline the request
- Reviewers who agree to review a manuscript must complete their reviews within the specified time period. If it becomes impossible to complete the review on time, reviewers should so inform the editorial office and ask for guidance about whether to decline to review the manuscript or to take an additional specified period of time.
- While there is not set remuneration for reviewers, each Journal publication will acknowledge their contribution to the journal publication. This will however be done in such a way as to not disclose the specific manuscripts that they may have reviewed.
- Reviewers can expect to be informed of the Editor’s decision regarding manuscripts they reviewed for the Journal.
- Reviewers can expect to receive the comments of the other reviewers for their edification.
- Reviewers can expect to be thanked for the time they take to review manuscripts. A list of the members of the Editorial Board will be published in each issue of the Journal.
This document is adapted from a number of sources including the Council on Scientific Editors Editorial Policy Statement appearing in Science, Vol 25 (6), American Society for Microbiology, and the Journal of Marriage and Family.