Papers reporting quantitative research may be drawing on a wide variety of data, from temperature readings to survey responses. It is important for the reviewer to judge, to the best of their abilities, if the data are reported accurately and if they support the conclusions drawn.
When reviewing a paper you should:
- Outline the relative strengths or weaknesses of the paper
- Offer constructive feedback
- Remember that a referee may disagree with the author’s opinions, but should allow them to stand, provided they are consistent with the available evidence.
Step one: Answer general questions
The main factors you should provide advice on as a reviewer are the originality, presentation, relevance, and significance of the manuscript’s subject matter to the readership of the journal. Try to have the following questions in mind when you are reading the manuscript:
Quality and value
- Is the submission original?
- Is the research cutting edge or topical?
- Is the research sound and evidenced?
- Does it help to expand or further research in this subject area?
- Does it significantly build on previous work?
- Do you feel that the significance and potential impact of the paper is high or low?
- Does the paper fit the scope of the journal?
- Would the paper be of interest to the readership of the journal?
- If not, would you recommend that the author reconsiders the paper for a related or alternative journal?
- Should it be shortened and reconsidered in another form? Each paper should be of the shortest length required to contain all useful and relevant information, and no longer.
- Is the writing style clear and appropriate to the readership? For non-native speakers, Taylor & Francis offers English language editing services.
- Are all relevant accompanying data, citations, or references given by the author? Are any tables or graphics clear to read and labeled appropriately?
- Does the paper contain the appropriate referencing to provide adequate context for the present work?
Step two: Assess the data
In addition to being a sound and original academic article, the paper should also accurately and effectively present and analyze any data used. There are a number of things to look out for in a paper reporting data:
- Are the data selective? Why have the authors included some results and not others?
- Are the data adequately explained in the text?
- Is everything labelled clearly?
- Do lines of best fit and error bars make sense?
- Are the conclusions drawn from the data reasonable?
- Is there sufficient justification for using the particular statistical tools?
- Have the authors explained why they chose certain values (e.g. quantities of chemicals)?
- Do the authors give enough information about the experiment that it could be reproduced?
- What equipment and materials/samples were used? It is important that the authors be precise.
- Do the authors use SI (or SI-derived) units?
- Are the values reported with a sufficient degree of accuracy?
- Is the paper easy to follow? It is important that scientific meaning not be obscured by poor English.
Step three: Make a recommendation
Once you’ve read the paper and have assessed its quality, you need to make a recommendation to the editor regarding publication. The specific decision types used by a journal may vary, but the key decisions are:
- Accept – if the paper is suitable for publication in its current form.
- Minor revision – if the paper will be ready for publication after light revisions. Please list the revisions you would recommend the author makes.
- Major revision – if the paper would benefit from substantial changes such as expanded data analysis, widening of the literature review, or rewriting sections of the text.
- Reject – if the paper is not suitable for publication with this journal, or if the revisions that would need to be undertaken are too fundamental for the submission to continue being considered in its current form.
Step four: Provide detailed comments
- These should be suitable for transmission to the authors: use the comment to the author as an opportunity to seek clarification on any unclear points and for further elaboration.
- If you have time, make suggestions as to how the author can improve clarity, succinctness, and the overall quality of presentation.
- Confirm whether you feel the subject of the paper is sufficiently interesting to justify its length; if you recommend shortening, it is useful to the author(s) if you can indicate specific areas where you think that shortening is required.
- It is not the job of the reviewer to edit the paper for English, but it is helpful if you suggest corrections to the English where the technical meaning is unclear.
- Being critical whilst remaining sensitive to the author isn’t always easy, and comments should be carefully constructed so that the author fully understands what actions they need to take to improve their paper. For example, generalized or vague statements should be avoided, along with any negative comments which aren’t relevant or constructive.